As Long As It Takes

Finding the balance between speed and patience.

I often struggle with the balance between speed and patience. You can see evidence of this struggle in the posts I’ve written since I started this blog:

Which approach is right?

In general, I agree with James Clear’s philosophy: impatience with actions, patience with results.

Unfortunately, the problem with writing is that sometimes you can’t be impatient. Things can take a while. To illustrate: this is all on my mind at the moment, because I’m currently stuck at a point in my third draft where I’m trying to solve a couple of problems, and I know I’m not going to find the answers through sheer force of will. As Anna Klassen put it in this excellent thread:

Building (great) stories takes time, answers come when they are good and ready, and self-inflicted pressure can yield answers, but they might be the wrong ones. I’m all for working your ass off, but don’t forget that patience is also part of the process.

But I’m still scared of taking too long — or worse, wasting time. For example: after I finished my first draft in December, I spent most of January and February doing “exploratory writing” in order to improve it. But in hindsight, I was trying to solve problems that weren’t really there — and in the end, had no real impact on the second draft (which I eventually finished in just a few weeks).

So how can I stop that from happening this time round?

I think the answer is focus, in that I should know exactly what I’m trying to fix. During those two months, I was writing with the vague aim of “making draft two better”, so of course that could’ve gone on forever. But now, I’m limiting myself to a specific list of problems, such as: how can I spend more of Act 3 on the A-story, rather than the B-story? It might take me weeks to figure everything out (although hopefully not 😬) — but as soon as I’ve got answers I’m happy with, I’ll know it’s time to switch to speed mode again and churn out the next draft as quickly as possible.

As I was writing that paragraph, I suddenly remembered that’s actually one of the first pieces of advice in Making a Good Script Great, by Linda Seger:

Is there a particular trick to rewriting? Yes! Only rewrite what doesn’t work, and leave the rest alone. This often means working against the temptation to do more and more. It means not getting carried away by new and different ideas that are exciting but don’t fix your script’s problems. It means following suggestions that are designed to get the script on track, not off… If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! And if it is broke, do something!

Man, I wish there was a way to remember the right knowledge at exactly the time I needed it. That said, I’m never going to forget this again, so maybe blogging is a step in the right direction…

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