Writer-time is different than real-time. Real time moves incrementally, day by day, changing slowly. We look at our pile of manuscripts and ask, Why aren’t you published yet? Why are you not bound in hardcover and sold in stores yet? The rate of growth appears static, frozen, unchanging. We’re so used to change that happens gradually (a small success here, a pat on the back there) that we become frustrated by the appearance of stillness. Things should be happening now. After all, we’re used to seasons coming and going, and change happening incrementally in nature. Usually, “success” gets stretched out evenly over time. We feel like publication should work like that, too.
But writer-time is different–it’s all sameness, until suddenly you’re published. This phenomenon is also found in nature: in the bamboo, that remains at the same height for a very long time, and then suddenly sprouts many feet. It’s also found in the harvest, when the seeds planted suddenly sprout into fruits and vegetables. The rate of growth is not gradual; it’s sudden, and all at once. That’s writer-time. We sit on our manuscripts for years, waiting, and then suddenly, everything happens all at once: publication, followed by more publication, all of a sudden. It is how it is for everyone–the only difference is how long that “seeding” time takes–in some cases, 10 years.
It’s a mistake to assume that publication and “success” will not come just because all is as still as a quiet river right now. It’s like assuming that the bamboo will not sprout just because it’s been at the same low height for the past few months. It’s like assuming that the harvest will not come, just because the fruits don’t grow at the same rate day by day, but rather, all at once. There’s a time for seeding, and there’s a time for harvesting. Those two–seeding and harvesting–are not intertwined. You can’t seed and harvest at the same time. What we can do is seed, seed, seed–and wait for the inevitable harvest.
The farmer seeds because she knows that the harvest will come. Likewise, the writer writes because she knows that publication will come. The farmer doesn’t say, “Oh boy, I think I’m gonna pull out these plants by the roots because it’s been long enough and no peaches yet.” The farmer just waits patiently, secure in the knowledge that growth is inevitable. Similarly, a parent doesn’t say, “I guess I’m going to give up on my 8-year old son ‘cos he’ll never be more than 4 feet tall.” That boy, of course, will eventually go through his growth spurt and become an adult, gloriously 6 feet tall. The successful writer knows that the child will grow into the man, just as the manuscript will “grow” into the hardcover book.
During the years that we’re unnoticed, unread, unpublished, we’re doing something vital–we’re “seeding.” There is no harvest without seeding, and there is no published book without the seeding of the manuscript. Success does not come little by little, a tiny bit each month. It remains virtually absent, until suddenly it shows up at your door–a grown man, or a huge tree. It’s on its own time, its own schedule. It’s on bamboo time rather than clock time. The impatient writer in all of us may ask, “Why don’t I have an agent yet? Why am I not selling my book?” But that’d be like the farmer asking, “Where are my peaches? Where are my peaches?” We would look at such a farmer and think that he’s mad. Of course the peaches will come–as soon as it’s time for the harvest.