One of the most difficult – and most unexpectedly difficult – aspects of being a writer is the waiting game. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published four books, as I have, or are querying your first: there will always and inevitably be a lag time, sometimes a very long lag time, between when you want news or answers on a project and when you actually get them. Right now, I am stuck in an endless cycle of this waiting game: I have four projects out in the world, and it feels as if I spend my life staring at a metaphorical “hold” button – it is flashing and flashing and flashing, and all I am doing is willing someone to pick up. In a less metaphorical sense, this means that in reality, I spend a lot of time staring at my inbox with absolutely no emails coming in (barring spam and FWs from my mom).
I remember this feeling back when I first queried, and I’m sure that many of you remember it (or are experiencing it right now) as well. That excruciating time when you didn’t know if an agent would say “yes” to your manuscript, and then, once you landed an agent, when you didn’t know if a publisher would say “yes” to your manuscript. I not only went through this waiting game in my agent search and initial publisher search, I went through this a second time when I switched publishers, and my agent and I sweated and sweated (and then agonized some more) over getting an offer at a different publishing house. And then I went through this again when said imprint collapsed, and I was forced to switch publishers yet again for my fourth novel. (I’ve been published at three different houses over the years.)
You’d think that it would get easier, and yet, here I am again.
Waiting on answers on two screenplays, a movie pitch and a book deal.
In other words, if you’re looking for an easy career, this isn’t it. :) Or if you tend to chew off your fingernails out of anxiety, you’re gonna need a manicure.
So why bother blogging about this? Because we’re all going to go through it, but that doesn’t mean this has to be a black hole of unproductivity. I mean, there are only so many times you can check your email before you start to feel like you’re coming unhinged. There are only so many times you can (or should) email your agent asking for an update before you become a pest.
So here is my advice, all of which, of course, is easier said than done. (Give me a second because I have to go check my email.)
1) Start something new. Every seasoned writer will tell you this. The best time to start a new project is while you’re waiting on the last one. Not only does this help take your mind off of your first project, but it also gives you something to dive into if things don’t go exactly as planned. It’s a lot harder to jump-start a new book when you’ve gotten demoralizing news about the last one than it is to get going on a book that is already half-written. And conversely, if things go gang-busters with project 1, you have project 2 to sell right away. It’s a win-win.
2) If you’re not quite ready to start a new book, find ways or excuses to keep writing – blogging, researching, taking notes for yourself on something that interests you. Every day. I have made this mistake before: stepping away for a few weeks and really not exercising my writing muscles during those lag times. Let me tell you: it is SO much harder to reboot when you’re out of practice. Not even the writing but the discipline it takes to do said writing. Make no mistake: writing is work, and if you slack off on your work, it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm to get going again.
3) Accept that some things are not going to be in your control. This is a difficult one, mostly because no one ever wants to believe that his or her career (and/or life) isn’t entirely within one’s power. But over the years, I’ve come to realize (as have many other writer friends) that so much of what happens in this industry isn’t in our hands. The only thing you can do is write the best book you can, surround yourself with the best people you can (agent, editor, critique group), and then accept that you saw the expectations bar and rose above it. You can’t make an editor read faster; you can’t expect the marketing team to do something that they only do for John Grisham; you can’t make a publisher offer on something if they don’t want to. You can listen to your agent, take advice from your editor and revise, revise, revise. That’s it.
4) My friend (and author) Kayt Sukel (@kaytsukel) suggests that you busy yourself with something else entirely: a project around the house, a volunteer position at school, whatever. And I wholeheartedly endorse this. The key is to get your mind off of the wait…and your brain away from your inbox. One thing that I have found tremendously helpful, in terms of managing my stress levels these days, is taking an hour away from my phone and computer entirely. Usually, this means an hour of exercise for me – yoga, running, whatever – where I can’t focus on what is coming down the electronic pipeline. I almost always wind up feeling significantly less stressed than where I was an hour before. Even if my email hasn’t delivered the news I’m hoping for, I’m more centered and thus, a little less frantic.
Look, the bottom line is that if you sign up to be an author, you are also going to sign up for all of the things discussed above. This profession is incredibly rewarding and wonderful and freeing…but it can also be equally frustrating and stressful. Not unlike life in general, no? :) The waiting game is, unfortunately, just one of those inevitables that goes along with the rest of it.
I’d love to hear how you guys cope with the waiting game. Any tips that I left out?