A Lesson in Patience

I’ve been thinking about patience lately, as three projects that I finished over three years ago have finally found a pathway to publication.

For the record, I’ve been in Muscatine for three years. Before that, we lived in a tiny town on a large lake in central Illinois. I left a tenure-track job I loved to become a freelance editor, independent scholar, and full-time parent. Writing was a way to stay connected to what I felt was my core self, beneath the housewife, cleaning lady, addled mom, and insomniac coffee drinker.

Book cover: Teaching Rape in the Medieval Literature ClassroomAll three are projects I cared deeply about and put a lot of myself into, and which taught me a valuable writing lesson. My chapter on “Sexual Violence and Sexual Compulsion in the Lais of Marie de France,” for Alison Gulley’s book on teaching rape in medieval lit, was the first academic article I’d written in a couple of years (despite that tenure-track job, in which I was expected to produce research). Alison’s eagle-eyed editing and patient sculpting of that essay to its true form was an eye-opening experience in what a generous, smart, well-spoken editor can make a piece become. That book, after passing through several publishing houses, is coming out at the end of June from ARC Humanities Press as Teaching Rape in the Medieval Literature Classroom: Approaches to Difficult Texts. Unfortunately for the world, the discussion of ways in which Western medieval literature appropriates, obliterates, and violates the feminized body has direct and immediate relevance to modern mainstream culture.

Book cover: The Ballad of the Lone MedievalistA second essay was a personal reflection on my time in that tenure-track position at Lewis-Clark State College and my beloved work as the representative medievalist. Editors Kisha Tracy and John Sexton were putting together a book on being the lone medievalist (there’s a Facebook page, a website, and lots of community around this, due mostly to Kisha’s efforts to connect and unite medievalists, rescuing them from loneliness). The Ballad of the Lone Medievalist collects essays with a variety of approaches to the topic, and this book, too, had a long journey into life—not long in the scope of academic publishing, though long when you consider how quickly, in comparison, Melusine’s Footprint came together, due in large part to our excellent series editor at Brill, Professor Larissa Tracy.

When I proofed this essay not so many weeks ago, I was touched and surprised to revisit that me of two houses, two lives ago—the tenure-track academic version of me, newlywed, full of energy—and surprised at how good some of her advice seems even now. That woman had no patience, however; she launched herself straight into things, and expected results, if not immediately, then on her own timeline.

Third but not least, a project that has more of my marrow in it, a researched personal essay on my C-section experience, is part of a collection currently titled The Emperor’s Cut that is now, after long effort, under contract. That essay drew a lot out of me as I explored my protracted episode of acute, chronic insomnia that followed my son’s birth (post tenure-track job, central-Illinois life) and linked it to my evolving suspicion that my suffering was post-partum related, possibly even classifiable as a symptom of post-partum depression (PPD). Watching the editors of this volume pursue publication with unflagging courage through round after round of submission, more than one agent, editor interest, editor rejection, and nearly every obstacle you can think of, with the eventual triumph of securing a publisher and a contract, has been an education for me, and a lesson I can apply to my own experience with my historical novel.

On the timeline I envisioned, THE LIGHTED HEART would already be agented, auctioned, and sold in a six-figure, two-book contract, with publication slated for this year. Instead, I am now in the process of polishing draft 12, a significant revision of the version I shopped with no success last summer. I feel like I’m finally learning how to write a novel. It seems outrageous that it’s taken this long, and I realize I needed the 11 previous drafts to get to this one. Of course there’s no guarantee that this version of the book is saleable, publishable, likeable, or worth anything, but I like it much better. I feel like it has more life, more urgency, more tension. I feel like it’s finally becoming the best version of itself—the version ready to submit to agents, who will likely have notes for revision, and editors, who will have ditto.

I won’t lie: It’s been excruciating for me that this is taking so long. I wrote the zero draft for the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge. Skip a few years in central Illinois for childbirth, stay-at-home moming, a year lost to insomnia, and my concerted undertaking of novel revision can be traced to June 2015, my first David Collins Writing Conference through the Midwest Writing Center. I put draft 6 on submission in May 2016 and quickly learned it was no good. Submissions again in the summer of 2017 yielded more requests, no results. Will 2019—the magical 7th year of work on this book—be the year of Misty—or rather, the year of Thomasine? I hope so, but I’m finally willing to be patient and–more importantly–do the necessary work. I’ve watched the editors of the above books toil and hope and struggle and try, try again, and I feel I ought to take their lessons in steadfast courage to heart. There’s no deadline, no expiration date on work that matters.

Patience, it seems, does not mean simply waiting. It means continually working to fine-tune, see more deeply, understand, and improve. It was a lesson a long time in the making, but I hope I can say I’ve learned it, finally. Or, at least, learned patience for now.

A Lesson in Patience

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