You might think a magazine article is a quick, easy thing to produce — especially compared to, say, “Huckleberry Finn.”
My latest story in Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, a feature article about watching wildlife at reclaimed wetlands, took five years to write.
That’s right: From having the initial idea, to refining it into something readers might enjoy, to querying my editor and getting a green light, to researching the story and writing 2,700 words before revising those down to 1,800, to seeing it through the layout process and now (phew!) to publication … five years.
I could have written the American equivalent of “War and Peace” in that time. But I don’t claim to be an undiscovered Tolstoy. I’m just a staff writer on a six-times-a-year publication, and this is how it works in our world. You have a good idea, you pitch it, and then you wait, and work, and wait some more, to see it through.
Writers develop patience just to survive in the game. Those who sit down and produce that best-selling novel in one wild weekend are few in number. For most of us, good words take time. Even if you are one of those lucky writers for whom the flow of prose is a firehose rather than a trickle, there are still revisions to consider, and down the line there are editors to cajole and convince. Getting published is a slow process.
Patience came in handy when I was researching the article, as well. Experiencing Sweetwater Wetlands fully enough to write about it meant several days of getting up before dawn, then wandering or just sitting and waiting and watching until after dark. Wild animals don’t come on command (that’s one of their most endearing qualities), so a lot of what looks like “hanging out” happens when I’m researching a wildlife-watching story. I’ve learned to be patient and not try to rush that part of the process.
Patience was also required to land the interview I needed. It was important to talk with someone who could explain how these manmade wetlands are created and maintained. After days of calling around and waiting for calls to be returned, I finally talked to someone who could lend much-needed perspective to the story. If I had quit trying one day earlier, the interview would not have happened.
Patience. Whether you’re watching wildlife or trying to write about what you’ve learned, don’t leave home without it.
My story “Strike Up the Band” is in the March–April issue of Arizona Wildlife Views.