By S. W. Vaughn
One of the many unavoidable facets of the writing life is the waiting. Writers wait until their prose is polished to perfection. We wait for feedback from writers’ groups and trusted readers. We wait for weeks, months or years for responses to our queries. Even when the ultimate goal of publication is achieved, we wait for galley proofs, cover art, reviews, bookstore releases, and signing tours. And sometimes—oh, the horror—we wait for the next idea to seize our writing muscles and spur us into action.
If your writing career is beginning to seem like an endless stretch in a crowded doctor’s office—only to find out the doctor is on vacation and won’t be back for a week—you are not alone. Other than listening to the Muzak of your internal communication system while you’re on hold (which often sounds like this: Why did I query that agent—she doesn’t even read thrillers! What if a wild dog ate my manuscript? What should I change my name to when the New York Times rips my debut novel to shreds?), what can you do to hold on to your sanity and stick it out until your sorely tested patience pays off?
To avoid staking out your mailbox, checking your e-mail every fifteen minutes, or haunting your Amazon listing hoping for a boost in your rank, try these tips to get off the waiting train:
- Write something else. If you’ve just sent out half a dozen carefully targeted, well-worded queries to your dream agents or editors, resist the temptation to sit in a lawn chair at the end of your driveway and ream out the mailman for delivering you grocery store flyers instead of used SASEs. Plant your butt right back in front of the computer and start something new. You may find yourself so caught up in your new project that you miss the mail for a day or two—and discover a pleasant surprise waiting for you when you return.
- Do something non-writing related. Even writers need a break. Sure, we all knew going into it that the word “vacation” would soon retreat from our vocabularies until the memory of it became an urban legend. But there is no rule stating you can’t take a few hours to do something you enjoy. Go for a long walk, read a great book, have lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in weeks (because you were immersed in the final stretches of revising your manuscript for the hundred and eighth time), or take up a new hobby. Know that your writing will still be there when you come back.
- Do some research that will further your writing prowess. As a writer, you no doubt have a score of ideas that have been percolating on the back burner while you slaved over your work-in-progress. Now that you’ve begun the excruciatingly long process of delivering your baby to the world, choose one of those ideas and flesh it out. Dig up as much information pertaining to it as you can online, and then head over to the library to find out more. If you don’t have anything specific in mind, you can simply start reading up on something that interests you. You’ll probably find the kernel of an idea in your research that will spark a whole new project, and soon you’ll be stabbing blissfully away at your keyboard with thoughts of important e-mails clogged in spam filters and evil, query-eating postal employees behind you.
- Learn a new language. You are in the business of words, after all, so what better way to bulk up your business than to expand your cache of raw materials? You don’t have to write your next novel in Swahili, but your life—and your writing—will be enriched with your understanding of a whole new culture.
- Vent your frustrations. Write a nice, long letter to a fictitious editor at an imaginary publishing house (or a real one if you prefer— just make sure you don’t actually send it out!) and tell her how all this waiting makes you feel. Reveal your insecurities, question her methods, or accuse her of using the pages of your manuscript to line her hamster cages. This can also help to deal with the pain of rejection. Confidently assure this fictitious person that you are an excellent writer, and won’t they be sorry when Berkley offers you a million-dollar advance and a three-book deal while she’s sitting on your manuscript for months on end.
Writers wait. It’s a fact of life. You can drive yourself crazy mentally listing the what-ifs and the should-haves during your on-hold times, or you can get out there and improve yourself and your craft. Instead of viewing the wait as a specialized form of torture created to punish you for making the stupid decision to try and be a writer in the first place, take action. Learn to see these interminable, unavoidable waits as opportunities to grow.
Most important, keep this in mind: somewhere out there, an editor or agent is waiting for you and your writing. Don’t disappoint them!