Developing Creativity: Writing With Patience

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

“And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

“Patience is a somewhat devalued commodity. Particularly among those who ought to know better – writers themselves.” – Dennis Palumbo

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in creative issues.

In one of his HOLLYWOOD ON THE COUCH column posts, he refers to the early 60′s movie “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” [photo at top] :

“I think of this film sometimes when trying to help my writer patients working on long-form projects—novels, plays, screenplays, etc. The running analogy is a good one, because long-form writing is like running a marathon: it requires endurance, patience, a deep reserve of will power and commitment, and an almost Herculean ability to delay gratification.

“(To continue the analogy, other kinds of writing might be likened to sprints—short stories, sitcoms, poems, etc. Sprints require a burst of speed and power, the knock-out punch of a single idea or concept, and a quick build to an explosive finish.)”

And this can apply to other forms of creative expression as well, of course. Writing a blog post as I’m doing here does not demand the same attitudes and emotional resources as crafting a short story or novel; adding a creative accessory to your dress is not the same as costume designing for a movie, etc.

Dennis PalumboPalumbo continues:

“Where the long-form writer gets in trouble is in believing that he or she can maintain over the length of the project the same vigor and intensity that’s brought to a shorter piece.

“Hence, when the work slows, or gets bogged down in exposition, or drifts off on tangents, the writer panics. His or her confidence flags. Enthusiasm drains away…”

He provides some suggestions to help “keep on keeping on” for writers, but that may be helpful for other creators – such as:

“Pace yourself. As I said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 16-hour days at the keyboard, living on pizza and Red Bull, may get you through a short piece or re-write that’s on deadline, but for a novel or screenplay it’s deadly. Hard on your family, your vital organs, and your outlook on life. // Expect slow spots, things that don’t work, and reverses…”

From his post Going the Distance.

Patience / Impatience

In another post, he writes more about how patience is being discounted – to the detriment of creative thought and work.

“As a result of this current frenzy for speed, for quick results, patience—with oneself, one’s work, and, more importantly, one’s way of working—is a somewhat devalued commodity. Particularly among those who ought to know better—writers themselves.

“Nowadays, few writers are advised to cultivate patience. There’s a lot of pressure to just write, to get it out there, to strive mightily to come up with the next high concept (“You got anything like Iron Man?” “We’re looking for another Harry Potter-type book.” “How about a police procedural show on Mars?”).

J.K. Rowling“We live in a competitive, consumerist culture, and there’s tremendous urgency to perform.

“A virtue like patience—sort of in the same homey, humble category as gumption—can get lost in the manic rush to produce material.

“It seems too that the word patience has lost some of its calming assurance, its reference to longevity, endurance, and the slow growth of technical skill.

“Rather than thinking of it as the quality that enables a writer to explore his or her material, growing more competent by small, even measures, patience has taken on the attributes of a necessary evil.”

[Photo from post: J.K. Rowling on Writing and Depression.]

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Palumbo’s reference to “small, even measures” reminds me of the change strategy kaizen, which psychologist Robert Maurer, PhD says “has been a fundamental part of Asian philosophical systems for ages.”

He notes that taking on a large creative project or some “big thing” or major change in life we want or need to do will often trigger disrupting or paralyzing fear.

He says that kaizen “disarms the brain’s fear response… It engages the brain in a completely different, much smarter, and infinitely more effective way… presenting ideas for change in a way that literally melts the brain’s resistance.”

From his article ‘Thinking big’ could be making you FAIL! – which includes links to his Kaizen program and book.

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Palumbo continues:

“When a writer who’s struggling in his career or with his creative process tells me, through clenched teeth, that he knows he ‘needs more patience,’ what he’s referring to is an arms-folded, foot-tapping-nervously-on-the-floor kind of impatience, waiting for things to get better.

“When seen in this way, having patience becomes the sorry equivalent of having to eat your spinach: it’s supposed to be good for you—it’s a damned virtue, isn’t it?—but nobody really likes it.”

He mentions that Stephen Levine, a meditation teacher and author, once described the cause of suffering as, simply, “wanting things to be otherwise.”

Palumbo adds, “I think this is the key to understanding the value of patience for a writer. If a writer thinks she is being patient by, symbolically, gritting her teeth and waiting for ‘things to be otherwise,’ then she will in fact only add to her suffering.”

From his post: For Writers, Patience is Still a Virtue.


Book: Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings by Stephen Levine.

Related article: Therapist to the Hollywood Stars – Excerpt from Shrink Rap Radio transcript: David Van Nuys, Ph.D. interviews psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo, M.A., MFT.

Palumbo is the author of Writing from the Inside Out.

Article: Dennis Palumbo from the Inside Out – An Interview with Dennis Palumbo by Colleen Collins.

Photo: J. K. Rowling working at a cafe in Edinburgh.

J. K. Rowling conceived the idea for the ‘Harry Potter’ series while on a train trip in 1990, and finished typing the first manuscript in 1995. She often worked at pubs and cafes during her lunch breaks from jobs and when she could get her baby daughter to sleep. From post: Creating a life of accomplishment.

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