By Kristi Holl
For a writer, which activity lasts longest? Excerpted from Writer's First Aid All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
A. Submitting a manuscript, proposal, or query.
B. Waiting for a reply.
C. Opening your acceptance letter.
Dumb question, right?
Anyone who's been a writer for more than six months knows that the majority of a writer's time--perhaps as much as 80-90%--is spent waiting on the fate of a manuscript or proposal or query. Submitting requires a trip to the post office or sending an e-mail attachment. Accepting requires a trip to your mailbox or e-mail Inbox. It's all that waiting in the middle that separates the men from the boys, the wannabes from the real writers. It stands to reason, then, that if you're going to enjoy the writer's life, you'd better learn how to enjoy waiting.
Over and over, seasoned writers tell us that we must learn to enjoy the writing process, the day-to-day putting words on paper that is the essence of a real writer's life. That makes sense, and once we make up our minds to it, learning to enjoy the writing process is a fairly simple matter.
But enjoy the waiting process? How? It takes more than just knowing the reasons. Understanding intellectually why we wait so long for a reply (down-sized publishing staff, floods of submissions, holiday vacations) doesn't make waiting any easier.
Ways We Wait
There are at least three different ways we wait, and not all of them are productive.
(1) We wait in a state of high anxiety.
When we're anxious about a manuscript or query that we've submitted, we wait on pins and needles. We know the market guide said “replies within two months,” so we give the editor an extra week beyond that. Then our waiting wears thin. Nothing is happening! We decide to help the editor along by taking things into our own hands.
We call the editor. We e-mail the editor. We send an urgent reminder note on neon-pink paper. We aggravate our ulcer and irritate our writing group with our agonizing. Then we have to live with the consequences of what (in haste) we decided to do. In a calmer, dreadful moment, we realize our strident questions angered the editor when we phoned. In retrospect we realize our pink stationery looked amateurish. Our anticipated check is already being spent on antacids, and our writer friends are ignoring our ranting e-mails.
(2) We grit our teeth and hang on.
Others of us wait by clenching our jaws and furrowing our brows. While this is better than making an irate phone call to an editor, it still isn't an enjoyable way to live. For one thing, it tarnishes the daily joy of working on our current writing project. It can also lead to depression, a “what's the use?” feeling about writing. As time goes by, we write less and less. Our enthusiasm wanes.
This is the time when negative things start coming out of our mouths about insensitive editors and the stupid snail mail and what rotten writers we really are. Jealousy of others' success can rear its ugly head now, too. Waiting in this fashion will bring out the worst in you.
(3) We wait with hope.
The writer who accepts that waiting is simply part of the writing game appreciates every small encouragement that comes her way. Perhaps it's a scribbled note from an editor on a rejection slip. Perhaps it's a comment from a critique group member that makes her realize how well she writes from the heart and touches others. Maybe it's just an article in a writers' magazine that, out of the blue, gives her a brand new market to try that looks just perfect!
Even if this writer doesn't publish any more stories or books than the writer who waits with gritted teeth, she'll be a lot more fun to be around! This kind of writer also tends to be more open to constructive criticism, which will provide opportunities for improvement (and thus more sales).
Learn to Wait Well!
As writers, we'll wait no matter what we do. Our attitude and actions during the wait will determine whether we enjoy the trip. In many cases, they'll also determine the length of the wait. Harass an overworked editor, and even if your manuscript was near the top of the pile, don't be surprised if it gets “lost” for a while.
Stay on an even keep. Riding an anxious emotional roller coaster only destroys the time you should be productively writing and studying and improving your craft.
Let someone else attend the pity parties. You stay home and rite. Feeling sorry for ourselves will only sap our energy, energy needed for the current manuscript, the one that's even better than the one we submitted months ago. Self-pity leads to jealousy of others' good fortune, and we conveniently forget how long they waited for their good news.
Patience Produces Enjoyment
Remember: no one is making us write. We've chosen this business. And just as getting thrown from a bucking bronco comes with the rodeo lifestyle, waiting comes with the writing lifestyle. Any time we're dealing with other people, as when we submit manuscripts and queries to publishers, we multiply the opportunities for delays. Expect them. Even more importantly, plan for them.
Develop patience. Without it, you won't be able to enjoy the writing life you've created. Fully developed patience will help you get where you want to go!
Kristi Holl is the author of 24 middle-grade novels, two nonfiction middle-grade books, and a book for writers, Writer's First Aid. You can read more about Kristi and her work at www.KristiHoll.com