Monday, May 16, 2011

Greyhaus Guest Blogger - Publishing is a Waiting Game, and it hurts sometimes

I have always said that publishing is a "hurry up and wait" business. We madly scramble to make a deadline or get that next chapter written and sent to the critique partners and then we wait. It is tough. And yes, the agents feel the same thing. We send out projects and wait calls from the editors. It does hurt.

But, I think what Elizabeth Reinhardt is stressing here extends to a different level. We have to find a way to summon up that passion inside of us to work on something else while we "wait." It is part of the game people!

* * *

The hardest part of the writing process for me is never the first draft. Or the edit. Or the critique. Or the query letter. It’s the waiting. Or more specifically, it’s what to do with the time while ‘the waiting’ is happening.

With waves of five queries going out every other week and a carefully graphed spreadsheet that I mark with a special set of red, green and purple pens (yes, it’s agonizingly color-organized) I feel like waiting is my job. I wait and mark in coordinating colors the rejections, requests for partials or fulls, and any personal comments from agents that might help me improve.

That sounds impressive, right?

Except if you’re reading this blog post, you’re most likely a writer, and you probably know that even if I monkey around editing the first three chapters to death or reformat so my entire manuscript has only one space after each period and a half-inch indent without the use of the tab button, that leaves a whole lot of time.

If I’m being generous with my schedule, I’d say checking my email and responding appropriately to all things writing-based can take, daily, anywhere from thirty seconds to a good five minutes if I take it slow.
Time should be a writer’s best friend! With all this extra time, I could be writing my next book. But it feels like the first book isn’t finished yet since I’m waiting to hear back about it.

So, instead, I challenge my high school teacher to rousing games of online Scrabble. And wait. I clean the bathroom from top to bottom. And wait. I dump out my junk drawer and, instead of throwing away any junk, I organize it all into unrealistically neat piles that will be a heaping mess in less time than it took to initially organize the whole mess. And wait. I check my email obsessively. And I wait.

My husband asks if he can use the laptop.

“I’m working.” I do not make eye contact.

“You’re looking at pictures of someone’s kid on Facebook. Is that your cousin?”

“Um, no. Remember that girl I worked with at Home Depot? It’s her sister’s niece’s grandfather’s birthday party album.”

The silence in the room is deafening.

“I think you need an intervention.”

“I’m waiting to hear back on my first book.” The tab for my email page is right behind the Facebook page, ready to all times to blink if I get an email.

“Look.” My husband gives me his best firm-but-kind voice. “You’re brilliant. Your writing is brilliant. But the time when you’re waiting for feedback on a book is like hell on earth. You’re like a robot. A neurotic robot. Please channel this energy into writing something. Please. Please. And can I see the laptop for a minute?”

Because he’s a really nice guy, I take his advice.

It’s hard.

Scrabble beckons. The bathroom and junk drawers sing to me. But I hold firm. At first it’s a few words, but the chapter picks up and I can’t just stop. Soon I’ve got a new story plotted out. Before I know it, I’ve gone all day without cleaning or playing or checking my email obsessively. And I feel good. Really good.
“I know it’s going to be a huge deal when you get the call from an agent,” my husband says. We’re eating take-out Chinese because I was too caught up in my chapter to make dinner.

“It will be awesome,” I agree. But what I don’t tell him (because I don’t like to encourage him to gloat), is that the part that makes me happiest is the writing. I love it. Even if I don’t get the call, even if I have bad days, even if I sometimes trick myself into thinking I love cleaning junk drawers more, I love writing. And it is, without a doubt, the best way to take up time when I’m waiting for that call.


  1. I agree.
    I have written a collection of opening lines, first paragraphs, even a few first 500 words.
    I turn to this file when I'm getting hung up in the waiting and one of them will sink its claws in and away I go, back to the world of creativity.
    Hours zip by while words fill the page and I am me again.

  2. This is a great post, and so true. I love the funny spin you put on the agony of waiting.

    Best wishes on landing your dream agent, but in the meantime--happy writing!

    Christi Corbett

    PS. Maybe you could buy a second laptop so you don't have to share?

  3. I think we've all felt that way. The waiting is a killer, like watching a pot of water boil. The best thing to do is put it out your mind and just focus on the fun of writing. Easier said than done, but there's no harm in trying.

  4. Funny post. Hope you hear soon! :-)

  5. "But it feels like the first book isn’t finished yet since I’m waiting to hear back about it."

    Amen to this part especially. This is exactly how I feel. I love the rest of your blog post as well, but that sentence really hit home.

  6. Hey all! Thanks for the kind comments! It's nice to know I'm not the only one out there feeling this particular pain. Good luck to all of you out there querying, and I hope you all keep writing! That call will be coming for all of us soon...we'd better be ready!

    PS I'm putting money aside right now for a second one, Christi. Sharing a laptop creates embarrassingly fierce arguments!

  7. Great post, Elizabeth! Waiting requires so much mental energy, there's not much left over for writing or doing normal daily life sorts of things. Loved the line about formatting the ms so it has 1/2" indents without use of the tab key.

  8. Thanks, Ruth! I read Vickie Motter's blog and she talked about formatting, and I realized I was doing some of it in an outdated way. So, you know, I had to go back and reformat everything right then instead of getting through a particularly tough chapter in my WIP! Haha! At least it was productive editing work!

  9. Isn't there a Bon Jovi song about this?

    Oh, no, that's waiting for love. But you know what? Waiting to hear back from an agent is worse than waiting for love. It makes you feel 16 again. Remember the days when we didn't have cell phones, so we'd leave the house, hoping he'd call because we weren't there, only to come home 45 minutes later to a still-not-blinking-red answering machine?

    Pretty sure I channeled that angst into a hella lot of bad poetry. Glad you've gone the fiction route. :)

    Love this post! Funny, smart, and true.

  10. Brilliant, funny, and all too true! With writing and an attitude like that I have no doubt you'll get the call soon.

  11. Alexa O - That is EXACTLY what it feels like! And when an agent rejects my work but has nice things to say, I always think, "Well, it's like when you have that person you love to death, but there's no chemistry between the two of you." Weird how writing feels so much like a relationship sometimes!

    Caryn - Thank you! I'm waiting by the phone right now...haha! Just kidding!