Sometimes people ask me how I stay focused on my writing and keep going. I often answer, as many writers do, that it takes discipline and a good helping of inner motivation to be with a manuscript over a long period of time. It also takes a lot of patience. Ultimately, patience may be the most important thing. I find as technology accelerates the world, speed is often valued over quality. I can write fast if I need to, but I’ve discovered that I’m better when I’m slow. That’s where patience comes in.
A while ago, I saw one of my favorite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, give a live interview in New York. In the past few years, she’s decided to reinvent herself and master the Italian language. Now she only reads and writes in her newly adopted language. This process has taken her many, many years. She spoke of her own slowness and how this choice has forced her to move even more slowly. Her decision is unusual, but I also see it as an extension of a practice I’ve always found in her work. She doesn’t rush her stories. She doesn’t rush her characters. She writes to work something out and it takes as long as it takes. I find an enormous patience in her work.
After I saw her speak, I took note of how I was always rushing myself, always trying to figure out ways to write faster, to read faster, to get where I wanted to go—faster! Though I tend to give off a calm energy with other people, I can be a very impatient person with myself. I was working on my middle-grade novel, The Night Diary, when I saw Lahiri speak, and the book was moving slowly. I was feeling quite impatient with it.
This wasn’t an easy book to write. Before I wrote the book, I did a lot of research. I thought and talked about it often. Even when I started writing, I didn’t begin in a rush of inspiration, which can be the case for me. Instead, I treaded cautiously and found road blocks everywhere I turned. I wanted to be responsible and careful with the material. I was writing a story about the partition of India in 1947, based on some of the things my father and his family went through. I had never written a historical novel before, and certainly not one I was so connected to. So I would write a little and then find the need to research more. I repeated that cycle many times. Over about three years and many false starts, I had a first draft. I wrote slowly, carefully, and I believe (I hope) my writing was better for it.
Slowness goes hand and hand with mindfulness. I’d rather wait for one perfect pear to ripen and eat it slowly, than gobble down three hard, tasteless ones. In the same vein, one thoughtfully written page is usually better than five hurried pages. It doesn’t mean I won’t hit my deadlines, it just means I need to practice more frequently and clear the space for doing so.
Here’s the catch — it also means letting go of things I think might be important, or at least letting go of having to get everything done in a short amount of time. We’re always making choices with our time and choosing one thing over another. I’m still a work in progress, but when I do summon up more patience, and allow myself a slower pace, I’m not just a better writer, I’m a better person.
But perhaps this essay is just a warning to my family that I won’t be doing as many household chores in the future – and making more space for this slow and steady practice we call writing.
Veera Hiranandani is the author of The Night Diary (Dial), which was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition and is a New York Times Editor’s Choice Pick, The Whole Story of Half a Girl (Yearling), which was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asian Book Award Finalist, and the chapter book series, Phoebe G. Green (Grosset & Dunlap). She earned her MFA in fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she now teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College’s Writing Institute and is working on her next novel.