Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Anatomy of Patience

To be a writer is to wait. It seems like that’s a big part of what we do. We wait for inspiration. (Well, I don’t really – though I suspect I’m more promiscuous than some with my inspiration.) We wait for one idea to be become many, and for those ideas to coalesce. We wait for details to emerge, to connect themselves to the larger superstructure of our narrative. We wait for the right time to begin a first draft. We wait until the first draft is done.

We wait through a second draft. And a third. And a fourth. We wait until we’ve rewritten our book so many times we just can’t rewrite it anymore.  We wait a bit, and then we show it to someone we love, an eagle-eyed reader who will be honest and kind to us, but also tough and thorough. Then we wait for her feedback. And when we get it, we rewrite the book once more.

We make a submission, and then we wait. We wait until it comes back, rejected. And then we make another submission. And then we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back, rejected. We wait, and maybe we do another draft. (What is that now, the sixth? The seventh?) And then we make another submission. And we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back, rejected. We wait. Then we make another submission, and we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back.


We wait to sober up. We wait to come down from this high.

Then we wait. We wait for the contract to come. We wait to hear about a launch date, a production schedule. We wait. Then we wait for the editor’s edits. We wait for her to rip the book to shreds and tell us how to put it back together. We wait through that eighth draft. Then we wait for her to tell us how amazing the book is now, and how proud she is to be publishing it. Then we wait for her copyedit.

We wait. We wait for the proofs to come. We wait to get a gander at the cover art. We wait for the launch party venue to be confirmed. We wait. We wait for author copies to arrive. We wait. And then. And then. And then. The book is here. It is there. It is OUT.

And then we wait for the reviews. And we wait.


Okay. So what I’ve described above is an exaggeration, and certainly not indicative of every author’s experience. Lord knows I hold no resentment toward those writers who whip up two or three drafts of a book, get it accepted it right away, and have the thing out six months later to glowing reviews. It happens. But for most authors, understanding the anatomy of patience is vital to their career, and their sanity. This is not really something they teach you in creative writing workshops or master classes in writing, but it’s something that that most writers will have to do. So much of what gets your book into the world involves remaining in a near-perpetual state of polite stasis. If you’re the kind of person who always needs things to happen RIGHT NOW, then writing and publishing literary fiction may not be for you.

Sad Peninsula - draft 1. What a mess.
I meet these types from time to time, these Johnny Rush-Rushes, and they always gape at me when I tell them how long it took to get each of my novels out, start to finish. Seven years. Each. They’ll ask: How is this possible? And I kind of explain it, and I kind of make excuses. For the first book, I did stop and go do a master’s degree, so there’s that. With the second book, my latest, it was different. There was a lot more research to do, and a lot more complexity to the narrative. When people read Sad Peninsulaif they read it – I hope they’ll walk away thinking that, yes, I can see how that book took seven years, start to finish.    

But many won’t. That’s okay. I think it’s perfectly natural to stroll through the aisles of your local Indigo and not be aware of just how much time, effort and, yes, patience it takes to get a book out. This may be the furthest thing from your mind, especially as you spot those 28% off stickers.

But here’s the thing: if you want to write, or if you do write and you’ve kind of hit a wall with your novel, you need to know how to be intimate with the anatomy of patience. You need to touch every groove, every hollow, every long, slow swell of its chest. You have to know every square inch of an empty mailbox. You need to know the acidy dread that every writer knows of finding an envelope in that mailbox with your address written in your own handwriting. And most of all, you need to know that wherever you are with your book – maybe you’re stuck on the ending, or its opening sentence, or you’re waiting endlessly to hear back from a publisher, or you’re lost somewhere inside the fourth draft – that place still only represents a small part of the corpus of waiting that lies ahead for you. To write is to wait. It’s what you do. So get on with it. Get on with the work that comes with waiting.

Fair draft of Sad Peninsula, marked up by my wife.
Okay. That sounds a bit harsh. In the interest of providing some solace, I’d like to share something with you. Like I said, the scenario I described above is a bit of an exaggeration. So for what it’s worth, let me show you the exact timeline, based on my memory and my chapter logs, of Sad Peninsula. Actually, this will be kind of boring, so you can stop reading here if you’re not really interested. But if you are, I think this might give you an idea of how much persistence it might take, to put a book out.

Initial idea(s)

First half of 2006: The idea or ideas for the book begin to emerge in my mind while I’m living in Australia. My first novel has yet to be accepted for publication, so I’m pretty skeptical about whether I’ve got the chops to pull off what is clearly a complex narrative emerging out of these ideas. I convince myself that, nope, I’m not good enough to write that book. Nope. Forget it. Not going to happen.

Second half of 2006: Okay, fine. Maybe it’s going to happen. Maybe. Well, no. Nope. Well, maybe. What if I just stuck a toe in, began doing a bit of research into Korea’s comfort women and doing a character sketch of Michael, my protagonist. Let’s see.

Research and character sketching

2007 and early 2008: Okay, fine. Definitely going to write this book. What the hell. Research is incredible, harrowing. So many ideas rushing in. Also: not only have I created Michael’s character, but now Eun-young’s has emerged as well. More character sketching – all the secondary characters. Learn everything about them.  More research. Harrowing stuff. How can I write this? How can I write this? How can I not?

1st draft

April  15, 2008 – Michael chapter 1

April 25, 2008 – Michael chapter 2

May 2, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 1

May 22, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 2

Juy 7, 2008 – Polished first two chapters enough to make submissions for grants and literary agents. Failed to secure either.

August 6, 2008 – Michael chapter 3

September 4, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 3

October 15, 2008 – Michael chapter 4

November 4, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 4

November 28, 2008 – Michael chapter 5

December 10, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 5

January 15, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 6

January 23, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 7

February 6, 2009 – Eung-young chapter 8

February 21, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 9

March 11, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 10

April 8, 2009 – Michael chapter 6

April 17, 2009 – Michael chapter 7

May 4, 2009 – Michael chapter 8

May 23, 2009 – Michael chapter 9

June 11, 2009 – Michael chapter 10

July 6, 2009 – Michael chapter 11

July 27, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 11

August 17, 2009 – Michael chapter 12 (UNFINISHED!!)

September 21, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 12

October 16, 2009 – Michael chapter 13

November 4, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 13

2nd draft

December 11, 2009 – Chapters 1 and 2

January 7, 2010 – Chapter 3

January 29, 2010 – Chapter 4

February 12, 2010 – Chapter 5

March 2, 2010 – Chapter 6

March 23, 2010 – Chapter 7

April 8, 2010 – Chapter 8

April 14, 2010 – Chapter 9

April 30, 2010 – Chapter 10

May 26, 2010 – Chapter 11

June 1, 2010 – Chapter 12

June 7, 2010 – Chapter 13

June 23, 2010 – Chapter 14

August 6, 2010 – Chapter 15

August 17, 2010 – Chapter 16

August 27, 2010 – Chapter 17

September 8, 2010 – Chapter 18

September 22, 2010 – Chapter 19

October 1, 2010 – Chapter 20

October 22, 2010 – Chapter 21

October  29, 2010 – Chapter 22

November 11, 2010 – Chapter 23

3rd draft

February 2, 2011 – full edit completed

4th draft

March 24, 2011 – Rebecca’s suggestions incorporated up to chapter 10

March 29, 2011 – The rest of Rebecca’s suggestions

April 4, 2011 – Art’s suggestions incorporated

April 14, 2011 – More suggestions from Rebecca

(Other friends' feedback comes later)


April 18, 2011 – Submission to Publisher #1

August 29, 2011 – Decision from Publisher #1 – rejected!

September 12, 2011 – Submission to Publisher #2

May 2, 2012 – Decision from Publisher #2 – accepted!! Ack – this shit’s getting real!

5th draft

July 17, 2013 – Sad Peninsula sub-edits

September 18, 2013 – Sad Peninsula edits finished

6th draft

December 13, 2013 – Sad Peninsula copyedit done


January 7, 2014 – First proofs

February 12, 2014 – Cover finalized

Late February, 2014 – Advance reading copies (ARCs) sent out

Pre Launch

Mid August, 2014 – first advance reviews appear. This shit is getting real!

Late August, 2014 – Author copies arrive. This shit is getting really real!


September 6, 2014 – Book officially goes on sale. ACK!!!!

September 30, 2014 – Launch party in Toronto. Double ACK!!!
The final product. Imagine!


  1. Great post, Mark. I can relate on all levels -- except for the part about actually getting published! Congratulations on the new book!

  2. Thanks so much, Emily. Hope your own work is coming along well. You should come out to a reading sometime - it would be great to meet you in person. See my events page: I've got a couple in November.