I have worked many jobs where I had to prove my patience on the regular, for a long time dealing with short-tempered, and sometimes impossible customers when I was waiting tables, or counting change, or booking appointments, then of course my biggest job yet as a mother which tests my patience on a daily basis—sometimes an hourly basis! Yet nothing has tried my patience, or better put– honed my waiting skills, like being a writer. If you’re just starting out and find even waiting on the phone to the tune of horrid elevator music tiresome, then you better tuck in. This waiting shit isn’t for the weak. And it doesn’t ever seem to end, only change with each step towards editing, publishing, and the whole rest of it. All the writing-related stuff seems to be an exercise in patience. If you’re naturally good at it, bully for you. If you’re not, well, join the club. We’ve got tee-shirts. Or we will someday. Maybe. You’ll have to wait and see.
All jokes aside, let me break it down for the newbies. Those of you in the trenches with me will maybe nod along. You will probably get it, because if you’re not there now, you just were, or are going to be soon. Let’s assume the actual story/essay/novel/poem/etc is WRITTEN. Done. That’s hard enough (and wonderful, of course, let’s not be all doom and gloom) but the hard part is really yet to come. That, for those of us seeking traditional publication, is the dreaded query letter process, but there’s a lot more after that. Just wait and see…
QUERYING: Have I mentioned how long it took me to get Ditch Flowers accepted? It was about two years. TWO FREAKING YEARS of my life. I queried over 220 literary agents, and just 2 small presses. And do you know what that process taught me most of all? How to wait. And wait, and wait. Of course in between the waiting for replies I wrote other things. And you should, too. Send a few queries at a time, and then hunker down to work on something else. Because in the two+ years I spent querying Ditch Flowers, I wrote dozens of short stories, several poems, and a whole other novel. I also spent time building my “author” brand (gag…sorry) so that once I was accepted I would have something to show for it. I’d be on my way. So do the same. While you wait for the many, many, many agents you have queried, or plan to query, get busy. Work on something new. Hone your craft. Take a class. Because listening to crickets in your inbox every day gets old real fast. And there will be plenty of crickets, my friends. Expect about 50% of your emails to go unanswered. That’s just how query hell is. Very quiet.
ACCEPTANCE/CONTRACT/YAY!: In my experience once your manuscript is accepted, and you have a book deal, you still have to either wade through the contract or have your literary agent do the dirty work for you. I didn’t have a literary agent and there were no attorneys specializing in intellectual property near me that could help without charging at least twice my advance, so alas, I did it alone. If you’re able to research contract terms *carefully* you can, too, but take your time. You’ll be tempted to rush to get that contract said and done, probably. After all, who wants to deal with all that business-y stuff? Not me, anyhow. But slow down. Read carefully, then read some more. Ask questions. I took two weeks or so to figure mine out, and I’m glad I did. Besides, after over two years of query letter agony, two weeks was nothing!
EDITING/REVISING: Once the contract stuff is out of the way, the real fun/pain begins. For me, revising DF was more pain that fun. I had a rough manuscript that needed a lot of work. When my editor sent her initial notes (and a color-coded spreadsheet, people) I froze. I slowly shut the laptop and backed away. It was the Homer GIF come to life….
In approximately three days I opened it again, and got to work. Did I mention I was on a deadline? I had used up three days of precious time panicking about all the changes I had to make. It was too much work! But, I got it done. Because I had to. But then there was more waiting. Waiting to see what would stay, what would go, what worked, and what didn’t. Once all that was set there was more waiting for cover art, and galleys, all the other lovely details that make a book into a book. And I still had months to go until the actual release. I was getting tired of waiting…
RELEASE: When the book came out I had some sales, yes, but it wasn’t an overnight blockbuster (do they use that term for books?) and I had to wait for reviews to trickle in, and then wait some more. I had to be patient with the friends and family who said they would read it, and promised to write a review. I had to stop my desire to hound EVERYONE around me to puh-lease take pity on me, read my book super fast, and then review it on Goodreads/Amazon/etc! I had to slow down, take some breaths, and just let myself BE. That’s it. I wrote a book, and it got published. And then I had to set that all aside for the moment and get writing new things. Which brings me to…
OTHER: This is the smoosh category for every other thing that makes you learn patience as a writer. You know, like when you’re in a critique group and you send off your work. Hopefully the group is set up in a way, and the members in your group adhere to it, that deadlines don’t take too long to reach, and you get some feedback within a couple weeks. But it can be scary to send off your unpolished, raw, sometimes embarrassingly bad work. If you trust and admire the people in your critique group, or your beta readers, or your next-door-neighbor, it won’t be so bad. But even then, it can be intimidating waiting to hear what they’ll say. You may have to wait to hear back from newspapers, or review sites, or bloggers. You may have to patiently wait for SO. MANY. THINGS. My best advice is repeated from above: stay busy. Work on something. Distract yourself with the beautiful world of writing, and don’t forget, reading.
AFTERMATH: Like I was giddy to share in my last post, DF became an Amazon bestseller in a few categories a couple weeks ago during my BookBub sale, and that is amazing. But like I said before, my life really has not changed much. I have not quit my day job (which I love, hello), nor have I became rich (shucks) or famous (thank GOD), and I still struggle with finding the time and energy to write on most days. I feel a lot like I’m still waiting. I’m waiting for the day I’ll be able to say I’m “off to work” and literally walk down the hall into my office with a big cup o’ coffee and hours of time to create. I’m waiting for the day I see my book on the NYT bestseller list, or USA today. I’m waiting for the day I have a whole shelf full of books that I’ve written. It’s the going there that takes time. But, in case you didn’t know it by now, I’m nothing if not persistent, and now, thankfully, patient.
Writers, share below, what have you found yourself waiting for in this whole process? Have you learned to be more patient through it?