photo by ul_Marga

I don’t know why it always surprises me. I’ve been here before. And I was warned before my first time. Those ahead of me on their writerly journeys said it again and again: “The waiting is hell.” And yet I find I have to relearn it. Every time.

Waiting.

Hell.

As fiction writers, at some point we all go through it. And in some way, shape, or form, the fate of our work hangs in the balance. Whether it’s being beta-read, edited, or submitted, having your manuscript out in the world is like placing a little piece of your soul in the hands of others. Oh, I know I’m not supposed to care, that I should divorce myself from concern over subjective opinions. I know I should let go of the outcome and move on. Maybe it’s easier for you. Maybe you can hit send and shrug it off and forget about it.

I tell myself I can. And some days it helps… a little. Other days I realize I’m just kidding myself.

And what do we do when the wait is over? For me, each time it’s been the same. I absorb the feedback, trying to focus on the good news but totally internalizing the bad. I celebrate and/or wallow. Then I dive back in, feverishly revising the work based upon what I’ve learned. Only to start the process all over, sending it out again. And to end up waiting. Again.

A Literary Uni-tasker

The sage advice I often hear regarding waiting is: move on. Start another project. Begin writing the next one.

I think it’s brilliant… if you can manage it. I’ve tried but, unfortunately, I’ve found I can’t. When I am in a story, I find I must totally submerge myself. It’s never easy in the beginning, but once I’m immersed, I’m good—life is good. My writerly flame burns bright. (Submerged and burning, you ask? Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but I need fire to harden my point).

I’ve long had an idea for a novel which would be a total departure for me. I’ve even jotted quite a few notes. I’m excited about it. So for my most recent waiting period, I thought I’d attempt to outline the new story. Not only could I not submerge, I’d hardly gotten my feet wet before my thoughts strayed back to the story I had sent out into the world.

To Avoid Counting Flowers on the Walls of Hell

So what’s a uni-tasking writer to do? Just wait? Play solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one? Take up smoking cigarettes and watching reruns of Captain Kangaroo? With apologies to the Statler Brothers, I found that surrendering to the wait just wouldn’t work.

Left to its own devices, with too much time on hand, my brain will stray to the dark side. Doubts loom large. My literary dreams become a joke to my dark-side brain. My writerly flame becomes a guttering candle.

Burning Low But Constant

I figured out that I needed a literary pilot light—a constantly-fueled small flame, ready to fire my literary burners at a moment’s notice. To sort out the various sources I’ve found to fuel my pilot light, I started compiling this list. Hopefully, some of them will help you.

  • Read—I try to make it a routine, segmenting a part of my day, sitting upright, with a pen and notebook ready. Particularly books on craft. And I find that those with exercises help keep me sharp when I’m not writing. I also like to read books in my own genre, or reread old favorites, noting the things I think the author has done well, as well as examining the things I think could’ve been done better and why.
  • Write—I know I just said I can’t work on a new project while I wait, but that doesn’t mean I stop writing. I try to write something every day—work on a blog post (like this), a book review, rewrite a scene or a chapter (even for the book out in the world), compose an elaborate Facebook status.
  • Revisit—One of the ways I’ve found to overcome self-doubt is to reread older work. Sometimes I go to a favorite scene or a blog post that resonated with others. If you keep a file with letters and notes of praise you’ve received, like I do, now’s the time to open it. Other times I take a risk, opening one of my manuscript docs and spin randomly down to a scene to evaluate its effectiveness as a standalone. It helps to remind myself that I occasionally get words down in the right order.
  • Share—A beta-swap while your work is out on submission? Why not? It may not seem like a good time for this, but I’ve found it helps. If you’re waiting for evaluation from one source, why not add more? And reading someone else’s work, putting yourself out there to help a fellow writer, can help keep your mind off your wait as well as fuel your pilot light.
  • Reach out—There’s nothing quite like good old community contact. Go to your writing community forums (obviously the WU page first and foremost, but there are others), and contribute to the conversations. Particularly on threads where your fellows are seeking advice or support. Read your tribe-mates’ blog posts and comment and share their links. Send a letter to a favorite author, telling her how much you love her work and why. Nothing beats the waiting-blues like helping others. Do it for the sake of doing it, and expect nothing in return. I promise, this one will become your most consistent fuel source for your writerly pilot light.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check my email. Again.

How do you handle waiting? What keeps your writerly fire burning? Are there fuel sources you can add to my list? If so, please share.

About Vaughn Roycroft

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.