In my favorite TV show that we’re following on DVD, The Wire, gangsters from both sides of Baltimore agree that whatever you do, you don’t shoot someone up on a Sunday.
Then Barksdale’s crew violates this rule. Omar, a gangster with his grandma on his arm, is in the sights of two incompetent henchmen. They call for permission to fire, and a distracted gang leader, in the middle of a mob meeting, gives the go-ahead. It’s slipped his mind that it’s Sunday.
Image found here.
They shoot Grandma’s Sunday hat–her “crown”–right off her head. Omar’s last-second dive, shoving her into a taxi, saves her. Except for some cuts and bruises, Grandma survives.
But the one rule the gangs held sacred–that one point of trust–is now broken among the gangs. All agree: what the Barksdale crew did was beyond the pale.
You don’t do that kind of business on Sunday.
I’ve failed the Sunday truce. Writers need a Sabbath, and lately, I struggle to find it. I’m talking about the ability to stop, rest, and cease and desist from picking at your manuscript.
Before I took a vacation, I sent my agent a draft of the novel, showing my efforts to address some issues. I knew this draft wasn’t perfect, but I had to submit it. I couldn’t sleep at night thinking I would just head off into vacation and just, well, you know, relax.
That would be wasting time. That would be less than diligent, focused, goal-oriented. Right? The rest of the world is busy pursuing passions. What are you, some kind of dilettante?
Agents need more than a few days to read a manuscript; you aren’t the only client, nor is reading manuscripts the only thing they do. I knew that, and understood when I returned from my brief vacation she would need a little more time. The problem was, I suddenly could spot a bunch of problems in my story–problems I would have seen if I had been patient and let the manuscript sit while I did the impermissible, relax.
But what if someone else publishes my idea before me? What if by the time I finish, My Moment has passed? What if, if, if, if?
In short: waste time and be distracted. Good authors do this and the writing soars because of it.
I took this manuscript back and asked for more time. My agent was willing to read it right then, but I said, No, I must make it better. With my typical zeal and impatience I dove back in.
A number of problems are fixed now–I’ll give myself that. But this tendency to dodge the quiet spaces in my writing life…this is something I must look at. There’s a bearing down, a gritting of teeth, a self-flagellation that isn’t any part of the joy of writing.
What’s that I’ve said before? Huh?
Breathe. Wander away from words and say, “It is what it is now–and it will be something different someday.”
The dark side of passion is perfectionism. Zeal can lead to beautiful phrases and pages as well as neurosis, obsession, and single-mindedness.
Next Sunday, I’m going to church. I’m going to a movie. I’m going to slow down, back off, and let the mind wander away from the work that will always be there.
— Where in your life are you most impatient? Where do you bear down, stress out, demand things be immediate, chop, chop?
— Write about a time where impatience or patience served you well. Write about a time where it did not.
— If you were raising a five year-old, an eight year-old, a 13 year-old, and a 17 year-old, what advice about patience would you give each? When should one be patient, and why?
— Is impatience ever a virtue?
— What is your Sabbath? Where does rest enter your life each week? How do you protect it?
— Do you rest too little or too much?
— In your writing, are you a Mozartian or a Beethovian?
— In your favorite story or novel, which character is fueled by endless energy, impatience, or excessive devotion to work? What type of journey does this character take, and what kind of end results? Is there a moral to this story about patience, work, and rest?