#ArtistTherapy: Tortoise & the Hare (Things Take Time)

"I write so slow..." I've heard this numerous times from various writers. I've even said it myself. At a writers' conference several years ago I bemoaned the fact that my linked anthology (now in year 7) was taking a long time. (Then I was 3-4 years into it.) The instructor for my workshop did a "real talk" moment. "You're acting as if writing should be an efficient process, Jennifer. It's not."

True words. It's the Tortoise and the Hare scenario of what wins out. Fast or slow and steady? I've met artists who have complained or regretted that they didn't initiate their art sooner. Ones who were frustrated that their art wasn't as good as it could be and why, oh why, was this the case? I have friends who joked that their novel is in it's pre-adolescent stage. I've had critique partners who could draft, revise, and again revise a book in a year or less. And others who've taken a couple years. And several who've taken a decade or more.

I know I am not a fast writer per se. When it comes to short or even flash fiction it can take me months if not years to revise a piece to a point where I (and my critique partners) are satisfied. I have stories that are years in the making and still don't make sense. I have pieces that feel done and may very well not be but we're going to set them aside for now while I work on something that requires some TLC.

Susanna Daniels took 10 years to write her debut Stiltsville. She noted that this was because she wasn't writing the whole time but because life happened amidst her writing. She got married, had a baby, worked. . . . Those outside of the creative world may wonder "Why does [this] take so long?" Perhaps they're picturing you sitting at a desk, on the floor, in the middle of a studio with your creative tool of choice and working on it every day, day in and day out, non-stop. This is not the reality. Even published authors for the most part have jobs. And emerging artists especially, unless blessed with financial backing of some sort, are more than likely working full-time jobs in addition to pursuing their art.

Writing for me is work. It's a job that I do not yet get compensated for. I have bills to pay, a grad school loan, and parents who will not cover my expenses. So guess what? Sometimes work that pays wins out over work that doesn't. And this can stretch into time that is not focused on creation or editing, but on maintaining the life you have. That's the reality.

There are also other realities. Like being stuck. Like not knowing how to follow through on an idea you like/love. Perhaps you don't have the community around you that would help you to follow through on a project (or projects) and this takes away some joie de vivre from the act of creating when there may not be anyone to readily share it with. What if you have no critique partners? What if you're intimidated by the ones you do have? What if you get a slew of rejections that takes some of the wind out of you? What happens when family commitments, tragedies, unexpected occurrences, and so on come into play? And that thing you do, the one that's more than a hobby but is a passion and a need, may get held up.

There are so many factors of why the work itself may not be done in a time allotted. Not everyone has the opportunity that author Harper Lee did where a friend said "Hey! I'll support you for a year but you better finish that book." Not many of us have the knowledge on how to fix a work so readily that we will meet a deadline. It's simply not in the cards for us all.

But what about the market? Timing is everything in the market, right? That's true to an extent. Even recent National Book Award winner James McBride said that timing does play a role. But so does talent. And in the end what do you want out there reflecting your work?

An artist will rarely, if ever, ask, "What's taking you so long?" because they'll understand what can be keeping the work from progressing. Be it personal, professional, creative, or other. Another artist will not pressure you to finish soon, but to finish, period. Hopefully you can relinquish the burden of being fast, of seeing all the sales and figures for people selling things now, of those striking while the iron is hot, hot, hot. It takes how long it takes. Creation is not fast or slow. It's a pace that works for the creator. Supposedly, God created the world in seven days, but I'll tell you what, I bet God wasn't on a deadline or anything.