“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”—Friedrich Nietzsche
I was recently working as a volunteer in our little neighborhood library, and a patron struck up a conversation which came around to my occupation. She was evidently a voracious reader, which I think explains her interest and curiosity about my life as a writer. Since we were both book lovers and surrounded by books, we quickly found rapport. Which may explain why, rather minimalizing and changing the subject as I usually do, I sought to earnestly answer her queries. When I revealed that I’d been at it for over a decade, that I was working on what is essentially my fifth full manuscript, and that I was still—as yet—unpublished, her eyes widened. “You’re very patient,” she said. “That’s admirable in this day and age.”
I was flattered, and taken aback. I wished my parents were still around to hear it. I’ve been told I am impatient for as long as I can remember. I think I internalized the notion, so I was struck by the compliment. I’ve thought of it often since.
I’ve considered my resolve during this long haul toward publication to be due to a lot of things—my stubbornness, fastidiousness, my being methodical, etcetera—but patience hadn’t really occurred to me. Heck, I even wrote a post for WU called Embracing Perseverance, and never once mentioned the word patience.
Which led me to consider gratitude. Because, sure, I am grateful for the compliment. But it goes deeper. Allow me to explain.
The Anatomy of Patience
I think the timing had a lot to do with it. You see, I’d just attended Don Maass’s workshop, The Emotional Craft of Fiction. One of the coolest techniques I learned about is called “third level emotions.” Rather than naming a big emotion, a writer can better convey a character’s feelings by exploring her ancillary feelings. Don asked us to pick a scene where our character feels strongly (anger, sorrow, terror, etc.), then to ask ourselves what else she is feeling, and to note it. Then to ask again, what third thing is she feeling? We then wrote a new passage for the scene which describes this third-level emotion. It’s amazing how revealing the technique can be.
And though I don’t regularly think of myself as a character in my own story, I happened upon the notion of exploring my feelings about the patience compliment with Don’s technique. [Read more…]