Monday, August 25, 2014

Faculty Voices with Jane Resh Thomas: Patience

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.


  1. Thank you, Jane, for always telling it like it is and for cheering us on - no matter where we are on this journey. Love you to the moon and back, Maggie.

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  3. Beautifully said, Jane! And of course I love the baseball metaphor.

  4. Thanks, Jane. We need to be reminded of the importance of patience on a regular basis.

  5. Oh, Jane, that piece hits all the right spots.