"Talent is long patience."
-- Gustave Flaubert
Love this quote. Not just patience but long patience and I would add broad and possibly endless. I published my first novel 27 years ago in a daze of unexpected success and my last novel was published in 2003 when I had decided I would never be published again.
In between, there have been possibly 6 unpublished novels, one just recently killed and I’m working on something new even as we speak. People constantly ask, “Still writing?” and I smile and nod while thinking, “Still breathing?” “Still sleeping?” “Still alive?” It’s what I do and have done ever since I was a kid, I write and I write and I write some more.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to be published, I want to be read, I want to be paid and given teaching jobs based on my talent. I resent some of the writers who have shot forward past me but I have always understood that this race can’t be won, and there is neither finish line nor virtue to being in front.
The thing is, you have to love the process unless you’ve divined some formula for instant success based on popular taste and then, well, maybe you have achieved something; but all of us have to go with our strengths and mine is not formulaic.
I tried to write a murder mystery once set in a squash club in New York where I was working but after the body was discovered I veered away from the criminal pursuit and was stuck in a mire of memories and feelings.
A few years ago I followed my childhood fantasy about vampires, disconnected from the glistening ones that made their creator so rich. I wrote about a mother and child bound together by secrets and lies and tragic truths but the editor who was semi-interested kept referring to the rules around the undead and I recognized I wasn’t the writer for a book based on a fairy tale.
How do you know the difference between giving up and moving forward? Knowing who you are as a writer and redirecting your energy to something that expresses your passion. If you are a fashion mad, gossipy teen-at-heart, the perfect story arc might result in a YA.
This past fall, a friend from Ireland suddenly died of a brain tumor. I was devastated by the loss of her, her husband and son’s heartbreak; but also by the selfish understanding that her death obliterated a time when I was in limbo between accepting the world as it was, or killing myself.
I met her my junior year at Trinity College Dublin and I think she may have saved my life. How I arrived at that stage, the complexity of our family issues, my own alcoholism, history with men and my rage at my parents is the stuff of a novel.
While I was at the memorial service in Dublin I had coffee with a mutual friend at Bewleys and he leaned across the table and instructed me to write this story. And so, I am 45 pages into another novel because, after all, this is what I do. I don’t have an agent or a publisher at the moment and there are many things I fear about writing this book including the vulnerability of exposing my truth to others and being met with indifference.
But, like Flaubert I understand that while my talent may be great, my patience will morph into persistence and that persistence will produce a work of art.
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