Monday, 20 May 2013

The Writer's Waiting Game

Look at Facebook. Tweet.

Check e-mails....again.

Pay attention to neglected children/partner/job/friends.

Then sigh, pace, flip through the diary pages--how many days has it been now?

And do it all again.

I think it was Alan Bennett who said, "Writing is mostly making cups of tea."

But there are two types of tea drinking for writers. There's the "creative", mulling things over, taking a break from the desk or paper or screen, the stretching and yawning reward cup of tea.

Then there's the "waiting" cup of  tea. Altogether different. This stewed and bitter brew is just a time-killing cup of tea, and it doesn't taste nearly as delicious.

The waiting that I'm talking about is, of course, is that killer time that happens after a work in progress is nominally "finished."  It's waiting to get feedback from your critique group or hear from an agent, publisher or a competition judge. Ultimately, it's waiting for judgement--rejection or acceptance, yes or no.

When you're waiting to get a response from a query, or even to hear back from the wonderful agent you feel so lucky to have, time does strange things. Think back to being a child, and having to wait for your birthday, or the start of the summer holidays, or Christmas.

In Minnesota, where I grew up, my community followed the Nordic custom of opening presents on Christmas Eve. This made for some lovely memories--a roaring fire, Christmas tree lights twinkling in the darkness and, outside the window, starry skies and clean white snow.

But it also made for a long, excruciating, almost unbearable wait till the evening. My parents had plenty of suggestions for passing the time--go play in the snow, take a nap, help out in the kitchen (as if!). Nothing worked. Timed just dragged.

So now, years later, I try the same thing, looking for similar ideas that will distract me during the weeks of waiting to hear back from my agent or get news from a publisher. Playing in the snow? Well, maybe I'll go on a series of long walks, or even a short holiday. Taking a nap? OK, I'll try reading. Help out in the kitchen? God knows those cupboards could use a good clean...

What else helps?

Starting a new piece of writing, obviously, but I'm still rather attached to the piece I've just finished, so instead of starting something new, I go back to my manuscript and do what I call "scab-picking." You know--tweaks and tiny changes that are pointless at best, damaging at worst.

Blogging does--I've made this post "last" by writing two words a day, clever me!

But generally, there's nothing to be done but carry on with life, and with writing.

And tweet, of course.

And check that inbox one more time....

while drinking a cup of tea.


  1. Scab-picking - what a lovely turn of phrase you have! Though I do know what you mean and think it is a very good description of "tweaks" that can cause injury to stories.
    Good luck, Jane.

  2. Yes, another example of my elegant prose style... I've let go of the story for now, but it's amazing how addictive going back for "another look" can be!

  3. I've got the PERFECT answer, as I discovered this past week. Paint a room! It's all consuming, takes most of a day, and leaves you stiff and achy, but yet quite satisfied. Course, now that the painting's done, I'm back to pacing. ;)

    Hope you hear something soon!

  4. Excruciating is certainly the word for it. I'm a couple of weeks away from the end of a manuscript at the moment and I know that the waiting time approaches. Unusually, I've had an idea for a new book already, so maybe I could make a clean break and get started on that? Oh well, there's a first time for everything...

  5. Thanks for the suggestion, Anne. My house is in dire need of some TLC. I'm not complaining about the waiting time, but it's one of the many writing things I don't deal with very well. I don't suppose anyone does. Except Nick, of course, this time!

    1. Of course. I'm coping splendidly and not worrying about it before it even happens or anything ;-)

    2. If I was anywhere nearby, I'd so come over and do some painting for you! Probably wouldn't help your waiting any, though it would do wonders for me. ;)

  6. Oh God YES!!!! The worst is when you've 'prompted' your agent and you still hear nothing. You know, in your head, this means they are probably chasing on your behalf but in your heart...THEY JUST DON'T LOVE YOU ANYMORE YOU LOSER. Ahem...better go make a cup of tea...

  7. I never feel unloved, but am just totally impatient, even for things I know are well worth waiting for!

  8. Great post! You are right about the different cuppas.
    I write picture books so I'm always sending off submissions. I keep writing new material and trying to forget what I've sent out. Occasionally I reach a point where I haven't heard from anyone for weeks. At these moments I give up all hope and announce that I am going to spend a week cleaning the house from top to bottom. Then I will always hear back from someone with good news or something to spur me on. And the house never gets cleaned. It has to be real desperation though. I can't fake it!

  9. Thanks for your comment, Alice. You're so right--that desperation can't be faked. Somehow the cosmos "knows". Hope the good news keeps flowing in. Who needs a clean house anyway?