Sometimes, the hardest part of writing is the time spent not writing. Can anything good possibly come from waiting? Time is money, right? A precious resource?
If you think about it, the process of writing is pockmarked with periods of waiting. Long, interminable periods of waiting.
You wait for ideas to strike. You wait for time to write. You wait for your browser to load your Web history full of research. You wait (sometimes a long, long time) on your brain, to make the connections your characters need to get from Act I to Act III. Once your long wait is over, and you have a completed work in your hands, read, re-read, edited, revised, proofed and ready to make its way through the creeks and streams of the publishing world to an agent, a publisher, a contest or a magazine, you send it off, breathe a sigh of relief, and you wait. And wait. And wait some more.
How can we make sure the time spent waiting isn't wasted? Here are a few ideas:
Composting: Grow Your Own Ideas
I like to remind myself of this fact frequently: I spent five years waiting for an idea—any idea—to surface in my life, some sort of essential clarity through which I could view things, string them together and make them storylike. While most writers have better luck finding ideas, wouldn't it be great to have a system that generates idea after unique and interesting idea? Try composting.
Composting, as Zen teacher and author Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones explains is a method of journaling that, if done correctly, yields a steady supply of ideas and insights that tend to multiply, like zucchini.
Composting is simple. To compost:
- Choose a composting notebook, and a set amount of time each day or so.
- Write down anything and everything in your mind. Dump it, like garbage, without editing, sifting, sorting or worrying whether it'll start to smell if someone stumbles on it.
- Do this for a while. Plant the beginnings of a habit.
- After you've done a few pages of composting, go back and reread your very first entries. Notice anything? Nothing yet? Okay. Keep composting.
- Go back again, and reread some more. What do you think? That tickle at the back of your mind is the beginning of an idea, a tender green shoot, starting to unfurl amidst the drivel you've been diligently scribbling.
- Draw out the idea. Look! You now have a work in progress.
Midstream: How to Wait Well in the Midst of Writing
So your story arc is like an unfinished bridge. You're hanging down at a 45-degree angle, staring at the churning river below. Now what?
You wait until you know what happens next. That's what.
With this kind of waiting, there's nothing for it. You do a lot of staring out windows, at dust bunnies, at the backs of your own hands, wondering why the vein pattern on your right hand is different than the vein pattern on your left. (Seriously, shouldn't they be mirror images?)
Just keep waiting.
Revisions: How to Wait but Not Be Awkward About It
Ever stood next to someone after you've just given them an especially witty birthday card? You're staring at their expression, their eyes tracking across the words in the card, waiting until they get to the part—you know the part, the one that made you chuckle in the cards aisle of Walgreen's.
They don't laugh. Instead, they feel you staring at them. Your eyes meet. It gets awkward.
When you give beta readers, family, friends, editors, or whomever, your work to read and review, you have to fight every fiber of your writing body. You want to hover, and call, and ask how it's going. Don't. Instead, think to yourself, I need to let my ideas have the stage. The lives I've put on paper need to shine. And I need to put the phone down, close the computer, and stop emailing my editor.
At this stage in the game, only think about the positive parts of the story that's being reviewed. Think of your favorite character, your favorite scene, your most dramatic emotional moment and be proud. Someone out there is reading your story!
Hell Is Other People: What to Do When You're Waiting for an Answer
You've survived many different types of waiting in your long writing slog, but you need to steel yourself for the worst one of all: waiting to hear back from the editor, agent or publishing house where you've submitted your work. You'll have thoughts like:
I don't think they'll “get” me.
What if it slipped off the editorial assistant's desk and into the wastebasket? Should I send it again?
Was my email address blacklisted? Where's that submission confirmation?
How many weeks has it been?
Is there anything in my mailbox?
Maybe I should check my email inbox again. And again. And again.
Is anyone going to answer me?
The trick to beating this horrendous waiting interval is to abandon the idea that it's an interval at all. Once you submit your work, it's (literally) out of your hands. You've surrendered control to the caprices of the universe. So what do you do now?
Start on something else. Have a drink. Walk the dog. Forget about that novel. Drop it like the semi-serious significant other who's just gone on a ten-month research trip to the South Pole.
A lot of experienced writers even go so far as to recommend that a writer always have a new work beginning when they're in the final waiting period during submission. Rebuilding your momentum is important, and can be the thing that carries you through if (and the possibility does exist) rejection temporarily knocks you down.
What are your strategies for getting through the waiting part? Share your experience in the comments.
For fifteen minutes, write about the last time you were stuck waiting on something, whether in the middle of the writing process, on an editor or during something else entirely. What was it like? What did YOU do to make it easier to wait?
When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, leave some feedback for your fellow writers!
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