One of the most common things I heard when I started trying to get traditionally published was that being a professional writer meant learning how to wait.
That advice turned out to be the absolute truth. So much of a writing career is spent waiting. For critique partners to give you notes on your manuscript. For agents to get back to you about your query. For editors to get back to your agent about your manuscript on submission. Once you’re acquired by a publishing house, you wait for your edit letter, your line edits, your cover, your ARCs and copy edits and first pass pages — and then, of course, you wait for your book to actually be released. And that’s just as a debut author!
There’s nothing you can do to make all these things move faster, unless you’ve found a way to make time speed up and slow down at will, in which case, please show me how to do that so I can get more sleep. But assuming you’re just a regular non-superpowered mortal like the rest of us, you cannot control the space-time continuum.
Which means you’ll have to wait.
I thought for a long time that “learning how to wait” just meant accepting how long publishing can take. But I’ve realized in the past year or two that, no, that’s not what it means at all.
Because publishing is full of waiting whether you want it to be or not.
But what you do with that waiting? Well, that’s something you actually can control. Because the thing about waiting is…it gives you time.
And you use it correctly, all that time you spend waiting can actually help you become a more focused, more productive, and happier writer.
So, here are my top tips for what to do when you’re waiting on something else:
- Develop Ideas
You know that awesome shiny new idea you had during your last round of revisions on your WIP? Well, guess what? You can brainstorm it now! Daydream about your characters! Make a pinterest board or a playlist or a profile to your heart’s content. This is the perfect time to see if that shiny idea is a diamond, or if it’s fool’s gold.
- Take a Break. Please. Seriously.
This is the part of waiting that’s the hardest for me. But I also think it’s the most necessary. Because writing and revising a book can be fun, but it’s also work. Hard work. And one of the most important parts of hard work is taking a break.
So when you don’t have any responsibilities staring you in the face, give yourself permission to binge that cool new show on Netflix. See your IRL friends more. Read some books for fun; do some non-writing hobbies. Give yourself permission to relax.
If you don’t let yourself off the hook while you’re waiting, you certainly won’t do it when you actually have a concrete deadline. And nobody can work indefinitely without burning out. Take care of yourself.
- Draft something new!
This is different from developing a new idea because…well, it’s like, actual, disciplined work. But I’ve also found it’s an effective technique in alleviating the stress that comes with waiting for things that can feel out of your control.
If a manuscript is in a critique partner, agent, or editor’s hands, you need to let go of it. And the best way to do that is to fling yourself into writing something entirely new.
Something that nobody else has to see yet. Something that belongs only to you.
That stage of a project is precious. Treasure it.
When you’re in the thick of a big revision or a first draft, it’s difficult to objectively assess reality. Your world shrinks to the words on the page and how good you can make them or how fast you can finish writing them, and when you’re done, it can often feel like coming up for air after a long stretch of holding your breath.
How do you feel about the progress you’re making? The books you’re writing? The places you fit in the publishing world?
Waiting is a smart time to reflect on what you’ve done and where you’d like to go next, because it gives you time to alter that path. Set goals, and be proud of all that you’ve accomplished.
Because the most important thing to remember about all this is that if you’re waiting on something, you’ve already hit THE END on a project. And that’s a huge accomplishment.
How do you handle waiting? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!