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The Waiting is (One of) the Hardest Part(s)

photo by Damian Gadal [1]
photo by Damian Gadal

Writing may be the business of words, but it is also the business of waiting.  Whether you are crafting your first manuscript or polishing your third best-seller, there’s some purgatory involved.  You wait for your beta readers to get back to you.  You wait for an agent to discover your manuscript.  You wait for blurbs from other writers.  You wait for an editor to decide whether to publish you.  You wait to see what changes will be required.  You wait, you wait, and then you wait some more.

If you are like me, all this waiting creates some serious anxiety.   It’s tempting to moan to my husband, kids, and friends, and I definitely do that at times.  It’s also tempting to hang out on the couch, watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, binging on chocolate and popcorn and spiraling into a ‘they love it!/they hate it!’ cycle.  But the waiting stage can go on for weeks or months, and that’s an awful lot of moaning and popcorn.  Here are a few more productive ways I’ve found to spend the time.

Take a break.  I’ve written about this before. [2]  My writing mind needs a chance to rest and recover, a chance to hum quietly in the background, making connections and discovering new material and ideas without being forced to commit them to paper.  That way, when I do return to writing, I have a fresh well from which to draw.

FYI:  By taking a break I don’t just mean avoid starting new work.  Don’t mess with your current manuscript either.  Opening the file, reading a few lines, closing it in elation or horror — “It’s so good!  I’m so glad I sent it!”  “It’s awful!  What was I thinking?” — that way lies madness.   You’ve either made it as good as it can be before other eyes see it, or you haven’t.  Either way, leave it alone for now.

Read.  One of the challenges almost everyone faces when they are trying to write and live a modern, activity-packed life is finding time to read.  While you are waiting, dig into all those titles you’ve held off on while you were working on your own story.  And then add a few that stretch you — if you read mostly fiction, pick up a nonfiction book on a topic or era of history you know nothing about.  If you are drawn to prose, try some poetry.  Use the down time to expand your brain and give it new fuel.

Hone your craft. Just because you aren’t working on a new story doesn’t mean you can’t improve your writing.  Two books are cued up on my iPad right now (both by members of the WU community!)— Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.  I’ve also got a host of writing tabs saved on my browser.  As my next novel takes shape in my mind, I think about how I’ll apply what I’m learning when I’m ready to write again. 

Invest in your writing community. If you’ve gone AWOL over the last few months, use this down time to build ties.  No matter what stage you are at in on your writing journey, there’s someone even newer.  Stretch out a hand and help them.  Critique a manuscript, write a blurb, offer advice or just show your support by listening.   

Exercise.  You can track my submission standings by following me on Fitbit — when I have a manuscript out, my steps skyrocket.  Whatever exercise you choose, try to add in a few extra sessions a week while you’re waiting.  It really does help with the stress!

Those are my secrets for making the waiting pass in a relatively sane manner.  How to you handle it?  Please share your ideas below!

About Liz Michalski [3]

Liz Michalski's (she/her) first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.