I am currently in the strange position of waiting on all on my projects.
A couple of things are waiting on feedback and decisions, and a novel and a screenplay are in the brewing stage, where I’ve deliberately left them alone to gain some much-needed perspective.
So, what is a writer to do? Here are five dos and don’ts of waiting gracefully.
DON’T refresh your email all day and night
With most of us having our email literally at our fingertips, it’s very tempting to stay glued to your inbox. The very instant that success, rejection or those vital notes arrive, you will know it! I have a weird habit of avoiding my most-wanted email – I will check Gmail’s Social and Promotions tags and empty Spam before reading The One. It’s either avoidance or saving the best ’til last…
DO take a break from devices
This is an important point at all writing stages, but it’s particularly relevant here. Getting out and experiencing life gives our brains room to make new connections. I find a gentle walk at my local park really clears out the cobwebs, and public transport is great for dialogue. Read a book, play a game, take a bath, snuggle with your partner, pet or teddy.
DON’T stalk people on social media
I am really, really bad at this. When Binary Witness was on submission with agents, I created a list on Twitter so that I could obsess over all of their tweets. This is not a good look, folks.
DO chat to other writers
Other writers are your best support, because they understand all about the art of waiting. Most writing advice will tell you social media is a time-sink and you should ration it. This is undoubtedly true, but it’s also a way to socialise in a distinctly antisocial profession.
DON’T hurry yourself
If you’re not on a deadline, your writing takes as long as it takes. I like to leave a novel for at least a month and screenplay at least a week. More is better. Once you’ve forgot it a little, you can be pleasantly surprised by what’s good and get a new perspective on what sucks.
DO pick it up again
Fear is a powerful motivator. The biggest NaNoWriMo mistake is not editing the first draft. Editing is how you make a novel, or a screenplay. Think of it like making a statue out of marble. The first draft is the crude outline of what you want it to be. The editing is all the fine work to make it into a masterpiece. You have to keep going back, though it’s always painful.
Six weeks is a normal MINIMUM waiting time, unless you’ve previously agreed on something different. Agents and publishers often have stated guidelines, from “no response means no” to “you should hear within eight weeks”. Harassing people will only get you a bad reputation in a very small industry.
DO follow up
However, if you haven’t heard and were expecting a response, you can’t go wrong with a polite email. It may be that you have slipped the net, but it’s more likely that they’ve just got held up. Checking in for progress is cool, but if you’re too forceful, you may force someone to say no.
DON’T react in the moment
When the waiting is over, it is tempting to jump right in. Hit “reply”, send out another wave of queries, delete your precious manuscript and empty the Recycle Bin. Do. Not. React. Take a deep breath and put it to one side. Have a cup of tea. Give the response time to settle into your bones.
DO act in response
Whether you’re waiting on an agent, feedback, or your own brain to take a break, what happens next is important. You need to pay attention to what you’ve been given. You may not agree with what’s been said, or the first idea that comes into your head, but it’s happened for a reason. The most obvious solution to a problem is rarely the right one in writing, if you want to be surprising and novel enough to stand up.
How do you cope with the writer’s curse of waiting?