One thing I never expected when I embarked upon my writing journey was how much time I would spend waiting.
Waiting for word on literary submissions; for agents’ responses to queries; for editors’ feedback on manuscripts; for magnificent covers to announce my novels to the world; for reviews to catapult said novels to the top of best-seller lists.
And the most agonizing delay of all: waiting for inspiration to strike.
Let me stress that I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate as a late-blooming novelist. But Tom Petty got it right: Waiting is the hardest part. In publishing at least, no news is most definitely not good news. Silence is absolutely not golden. By nature, writers are sensitive, creative types who crave feedback, stroking, encouragement, acceptance. Against the dismaying soundtrack of crickets while the world contemplates our work, it’s far too easy to wallow in self-pity and doubt. To retreat.
And at times, repose is absolutely appropriate, even prescribed. But a far more productive strategy might be to seize those down times and toil in earnest.
In tribute to all writers currently waiting for feedback from the publishing universe, here are some suggestions for transforming those interminable periods from fallow to fertile.
Research: With all these hours on your hands, there’s no better time to plot those dual, reverse timelines for that historical novel you’ve been mulling over forever. Or to conduct phone interviews you’ve put off for that police procedural. I, for example, have been devouring statistics on security breaches for my next family drama. At the moment, these two topics go together like chalk and cheese, but by the time I digest this data, I hope to have connected the dots.
Research can also encompass virtual visits to other authors, especially best-selling writers with strong reader connections. What are their standout strategies, and how can you replicate them? In particular, I’ve been mining writers’ pre-publication tactics in advance of my second book, AT WAVE’S END, coming August 15.
Laying the groundwork for future projects will make you feel virtuous while preparing you to hit the ground running with your next endeavor.
Reach: Instead of grinding to a halt, exercise your creative muscle. For example, I enjoy photography, and during a recent wait, I sorted through thousands of personal photos, identifying a few dozen for use in future blog posts and marketing swag. I mean, why pay for a stock photo of tombstones when I digitally captured an entire Croatian cemetery?
During another interim, I took a one-day screenwriting workshop in case I decide to adapt my own books for film one day. (That in spite of Jennifer Weiner’s observation that adapting one’s own book is akin to circumcising one’s own child.)
You might “reach” into another genre—penning song lyrics if you’re a novelist, or dashing off a personal essay if poetry is your wheelhouse. A good reach for all: figuring out how to create splashy social media images for all of your posts. (Hint: Canva is easy and mostly free. And slightly addictive. Start using it now.)
Refine: Go back to your archive, retrieve a languishing query/synopsis/manuscript and rejuvenate it. My best revenge on a ticking clock is to dust off an old short story, retool it and resubmit it elsewhere. Taking inventory this way prevents the wait from paralyzing me, returns me to my writing roots and reminds me of all I’ve accomplished to this point.
Read: For writers, getting lost in a well-written book is not a luxury. It’s a requirement. Read like it’s your job. While your stuff is in everyone else’s hands, catch up on the classics. Deconstruct a best-seller. Or better yet, buy and read a fellow author’s latest. Which leads me to….
Return the Favor: Awaiting a response? Make a deposit in the Bank of Karma by heaping (honest) praise upon your fellow artists. Tweets, Follows, Likes, and Shares are nice, but instead of twiddling your creative thumbs, go that extra mile and craft a review. Letting the world know their book resonated with you is music to authors’ ears. A review needn’t be long, and one day soon they may do the same for you.
Recalibrate/Reflect: During the sounds of silence, worrisome thoughts often bubble up, like “Does this writing life really suit me?” Trust me. It does. To a T. But have these important conversations with yourself. Remind yourself of your gift, and of all the things you love about your ability to stream your thoughts, fears and imagination at will. If writing was easy, everyone would do it.
. . .
I hope these ideas have helped. I haven’t profited from every waiting period in my writing life, but I’m learning. Because one thing is guaranteed: the moment you receive that response—whether rejection, acceptance, feedback, criticism or contract—the fun is over. Your break is over. Action is now required. And as you resume work, you will instantly pine for those hours, weeks or months in which you could have done anything, but didn’t.
So: if you’re right now holding your breath and waiting for someone else to validate you, get over yourself, and get to work. Instead of lamenting the wait, leverage it.
Because as the English author, poet and dramatist Eden Phillpotts once said, “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
How do you survive the waiting game? Share your strategies in the Comments below.
Patricia Perry Donovan is a journalist and author of two novels, DELIVER HER and the forthcoming AT WAVE’S END ( August 15, 2017). Her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. The mother of two grown daughters, Patricia lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband and Yorkie, Diesel.
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About AT WAVE’S END:
After a childhood as unpredictable as the flip of a coin, Faith Sterling has finally found her comfort zone in the kitchen of an upscale Manhattan restaurant. A workaholic chef, at least there she’s in control. So when her free-spirited and often-gullible mother, Connie, calls to announce that she’s won a bed-and-breakfast on the Jersey Shore, Faith’s patience boils over. Convinced the contest is a scam, she rushes to Wave’s End to stop Connie from trading her steady job for an uncertain future.
When a hurricane ravages the coast, Faith is torn between supporting the shore rescue and bailing out her beleaguered boss. But the storm dredges up deceptions and emotional debris that threaten to destroy the inn’s future and her fragile bonds with her mother.
As the women struggle to salvage both the inn and their relationship, Faith begins to see herself and Connie in a new light—and to realize that some moments are better left to chance.