Writing takes time. We all know that. We do know we need patience. It’s not like we can sit down and whip off 70,000 words in an afternoon (or however many your particular genre’s asking for). Well, okay, maybe some of you can, but I’m deliberately not talking to you, because you scare me with your efficiency.
And then there’s the editing. Probably some rewriting. Which is all good – we were ready for this, we were prepared, we knew it’d take time.
But no one mentioned the waiting.
It starts quite reasonably, with the setting aside of the masterpiece that is our first draft (snort), so that we can come back to it with clearer eyes. Common wisdom says we need to ignore the wailings of our abandoned book baby for at least a month before we start playing with it again, preferably more.
So we wait.
And it’s hard at first, but we have a date in our diary that we can count down towards, and finally, finally we get to throw ourselves back into it, half terrified that it’s going to be about as enticing as a seagull’s leftovers, half certain that it’ll be immaculate and perfect and the bestseller of its generation.
Of course, it’s neither. It’s a work in progress, so back in we go for more editing, and more rewriting, and re-rewriting, and re-editing, and agonising over the placement of commas, and should the rain gleam or glisten, and holy cow, who put all these adverbs in? But at last, when we can’t stand the sight of the thing, we get to send it off to beta readers.
And then we wait.
This is the beginning of the really agonising waiting, the waiting we can’t control. Once again we entertain fantasies of beta readers coming back gushing about the perfection of our prose and the depth of our description, while at the same time expecting to receive an email that just says, “please stop.” It’s scary, having other people reading our work. I like to send one copy to my dad, because he’ll say good things even if he had to purge the manuscript from his Kindle to stop it infecting his other books with purple prose. The rest I send to people who I trust to tell me if it should be buried in an unmarked grave.
And then I wait.
No one ever reads fast enough for a waiting author. You could get it back to us in the same afternoon and we’ll huff and ask why you didn’t finish it before lunch. We’re impatient. We want to know you loved it, right now.
Of course, if you didn’t love it, we want to know that too. Sort of. As long as you’re nice about it.
And eventually the notes do come back, and we love every suggestion and correction, whether we agree with them or not, because beta readers aren’t just telling us where we’ve missed the mark – they’re giving us a road-map to find those bits. They may not be able to tell us how, but they absolutely tell us where the repairs need to go, and it’s the most amazing thing ever. Because by this point we could’ve written a couple of chapters in ancient Greek and never noticed, because we’re far too immersed in our own story. So if you have beta readers, go tell them they’re amazing. I’ll wait.
Then the next stint begins – adjusting and correcting, maybe even some pretty major rewriting again. And editing after that, of course. And if the rewrites were really big, well – we’re going to need more beta readers.
Out the book goes.
We wait once more, wondering how long it’s going to take and remembering every mistake we made with perfect clarity, and only just resisting emailing the beta readers a new version every Tuesday.
Finally, back it comes.
And now, if we’re really, really lucky, and have listened to our beta readers, and used our judgement, and been brutal with what we carved out of the story (kill your darlings also means being pretty free and easy with major book surgery), and maybe replaced them or not, and stitched the edges up again, tighter and shorter than before, then maybe we’ll have something that looks like a book at the end.
Amazing! We’ve done it!
Because if we thought that that waiting was bad, we’re on to the big stuff now. Maybe you’re trying the traditional route, in which case you have the fun of wrestling with a synopsis (often squeezed onto one page, and holy cow, does my story sound dull when stripped down to that) and a query letter, which get sent off either alone or with a few chapters trailing after them. After which you wait, and you know it’s going to be months, but you’re still checking your email obsessively just in case, because you never know, right?
Unfortunately, when you do know, the odds are good that it’s a polite note saying your query doesn’t suit their needs. So you send out some more lonely little letters and keep on waiting.
But even if you’re going self-published, you don’t get to skip the waiting. Now you’ve got cover designers to wait on, and editors, and the back and forth of emails as changes are made and details are tweaked, and maybe you’re waiting to hear from book bloggers too, or marketers, or…
Yeah. I’m getting more and more convinced that we’re waiters as much as we’re writers. That the actual act of creation is only a very small part of one very big whole. And unfortunately we don’t even get to control all our waiting – a lot of it is waiting on other very busy people to get to our one small book.
But, honestly? If I take nothing else from my experience of writing than the understanding that creativity is as much patience as it is anything else, I’ll be okay with that. Patience is a wonderfully underrated thing in these days of instant downloads and same day delivery. And it makes for a different perspective, the realisation that for every day the writing just won’t work, or there’s no time to sit long enough to find the words, there are more days to come. And plenty of those will be spent in waiting that I can’t control, so what’s one day where I don’t get a scene down? There’s time. Writing has no age limit, no best before. We’re playing the long game, lovely people. Settle in and make yourselves comfortable.
I’ll put the kettle on.
How do you find the waiting part of writing? Are you patient about it, or do you find it frustrating? Let me know in the comments!