Jane Resh Thomas

At the Hamline residency’s
discussion of the writing life in July, Laura Ruby and Claire Rudolf Murphy
talked about the virtue of patience. Nothing could be more important to us as
we learn the craft, write our books, and struggle to market them.

Writing is a lifelong
apprenticeship, yet a woman telephoned one of my writer friends, wanting her to
put the woman in touch with a publisher: in the few months since God told her
to make books for children, she had written a hundred-odd picture books; the
only thing holding her back from publication of these treasures, she assumed,
was the right connection.

Writing is a lifelong
apprenticeship, yet many people who enter MFA programs in writing believe that,
by the end of two years, their work will be publishable, if not already
published. Many writers send out their work way too soon, when it still
requires several more drafts before an editor will read it all the way through.

The need for patience is
borne out by several friends’ recent experience. In the face of rejections by
the dozen over the years, Cheryl Blackford, who spoke last winter at Hamline,
found a publisher for her new novel, Lizzie and the Lost Baby (Houghton). Twelve years after Jane
St. Anthony completed Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart, she
found a publisher who will bring out that book and paperback editions of her
previous two novels (University of Minnesota Press). Several years after their
graduation from the Hamline MFA Program in Writing for Children and YoungAdults, Maggie Moris found an agent for the novel that was her thesis, and Jane O’Reilly landed a two-book contract for her fiction (Egmont). All of these
women kept on writing their fiction, despite incessant discouragement for years
from agents and publishers.

The kind of patience these
writers exhibited was prodigious. In the first place, they had the patience to
develop their talent by learning their craft. They all write clear flawless
English in distinctive voices. They know how to build an English sentence, a
character, a theme, a chapter, a through line, a novel. They stay with a
manuscript until they’ve learned what it wanted to say, what they wanted
to say through it. They set aside draft after draft, until their writing sings
like a choir, all of its parts working together. People who publish their work,
in addition to native talent and skill, have to be drudges, able to persist in
a project until it makes them want to flush it and cut their own throats. Then
they go on again anyway.

People who publish their
work also have given up publication as their reason for being. They’ve learned
to live their lives in the world, not shackled to their desks. They’ve made
writing one of their pleasures, independent of whether it ever sees the inside
of a library. They’ve divided their creativity from the misery of locating
agents and editors. They can play the hardball of publishing, where a rock
flies past their noses at ninety miles per hour every time they raise their
heads. Writing for them is a daily practice, however the world responds to
their work.

Writing is a lifelong apprenticeship. The writer continues
to develop, even as she markets the work of the writer she was last year.
Patience, stubbornness, determination, if not the keys, are some
of the keys to our finding joy in the work.