Once you wade deep enough into the publishing world, you start to realize that a huge chunk of the industry involves waiting. Whether you’re waiting on feedback from critique partners, waiting on replies from literary agents about your book, waiting the 1.5 to 2+ year stretch from when you sell your book to when it’s actually published, you’re going to be doing a lot of sitting on your hands. And, naturally, with lots of waiting comes lots of stressing. And lots of chocolate eating. And, sometimes, lots crying. Waiting is so integral to writing that it has even inspired this popular vignette:
“Wait and wait and wait and wait
Until all you feel for your book is hate
And on your nerves it begins to grate
And then, some more, you wait and wait”
Okay, that’s not actually a thing. I just made that up. But it is pretty accurate, at least in my experience. Waiting constantly grates on my confidence, reducing me to a heap of nerves, stress, and constant email refreshing. Waiting, it also seems, is pretty much endless.
Over the last few years, I’ve queried literary agents on four separate occasions. I’ve also sent a number of my manuscripts to beta readers and critique partners for feedback. Both of these add up to a great deal of waiting, which means I totally get the stress. And it’s hard, guys. I’m sure you already know this, but it bears repeating: it isn’t just you. Waiting is hard. It’s even worse when you have to wait on a book you love, a book you want the whole world to love, too. And arguably the worst part of waiting isn’t the fact that a response is taking so long, but that your mind buries itself in the absolute worst case scenario–that your critique partners hate the book, for example, or that an agent read it and thought it was so terrible that they outright blocked your email address, or that you’re a failure and no one is going to like this book and oh god oh god, why even try?
Waiting brings out the cynic in all of us. It also lets your imagination run rampant, such that you end up examining every little thing–analyzing the reading update your critique partner sent you in hopes of figuring out how exactly they feel about your book. The same goes for emails from literary agents, or checking agents’ Twitter feeds, or a whole slew of things. These bits of obsessing usually lead to more anxiety, but most of us do it anyway, because it’s so tough to stop.
The trick to waiting–and this is much easier said than done–is to take a deep breath and focus on something else.
In the spirit of this month’s theme (“What Works and What Doesn’t” )I want to talk about more specific strategies that, in my experience, have been successful, as well as those that, well, haven’t.
Doesn’t Work: Endlessly refreshing your email. Unfortunately, there seems to be an unwritten law of nature that, if you’re checking your inbox, no new email will appear. Even if you only keep the tab open, there will be total silence. But, more importantly, constantly checking your inbox will keep re-stressing you. What you want is to distract yourself with something else. So the next time you start to type “gmail.com” into the browser for the third instance in the last few minutes, stop. Take a breath. Get yourself out of the habit.
Works: Talking out your stress. Find a helpful friend or fellow writer, and put all of your anxieties and fears into words. It may not make you feel better right away, but it does help a ton in the long run. The more you hold in your nerves, in my experience, the more stressed you are.
Works: Staring at pictures of cute animals.
(This is also true of videos of cute animals.) (And dreaming of how much more glamorous your life would become if you could be a professional baby otter feeder.)
Works: Going outside. As terrifying as The Outdoors (cue up the dramatic music) sometimes are, just going outside and walking/jogging/sitting, even when it’s well below freezing like it is here, really helps to clear your head.
Works: Reading! I’ve recently read The Winner’s Curse, a light YA fantasy, as well as Grasshopper Jungle, a weird YA contemporary, both of which I absolutely loved. Reading great books can help remind you why you are doing this whole writing thing–not to be universally loved, but because you have to. Because you can’t not write. Because one day you want to create something as extraordinary as your own favorite stories.
Doesn’t Work: Talking about querying with writerly peers who are having much more success than you are. No matter how happy you are for them, you will inevitably fall into another pit of I-can’t-take-this-why-is-this-not-going-well, etc etc etc.
Doesn’t Work: Spending a good portion of your time online, especially on social media. Assuming that you are at least a teeny bit entrenched in the writing world online, you might find pretty quickly that throwing your stress into social media can hurt more than it helps. The same is true for pretty much any place online. Since so many sources of your stress are, I’m guessing, online–probably your beta readers are, very likely that the agents you queried are, and even more likely that your means of getting feedback (e.g. emails) is–cutting down on internet time on the whole can do wonders. Plus, if you’re on social media or if you blog, you’ll probably find that both are naturally stressful. Little things can easily add up on social media, and as a result, your mood will plummet.
Also, this could just be me, but in general I find that spending time in front of a screen when I’m stressed just makes me more anxious. It is so hard to break away, I know, but when you do (by reading a print book! By going outside! By doing both!), you’ll likely feel so much better.
Toss-up: Writing. Ah, yes. From the writers I’ve talked to and the huge diversity of responses I’ve received re: writing while waiting: I think it’s safe to categorize this one as a toss-up. Because, depending on how you write, how into your book you are, and a whole lot of luck, writing while waiting can either multiply your stress (as it does for me) or it can be a total relief. For example, if you’re working on a manuscript that’s going really well, writing is the PERFECT way to distract yourself from waiting. You can get lost in your world and your characters, and you’ll have this whole new book to query or send to beta readers if, for whatever reason, the one you’re currently waiting on doesn’t receive the kind of feedback you wanted. But on the flip side, if each one of your projects seems to be going poorly, working on them while you’re waiting can really exacerbate your stress levels. “I’m never going to write something as good as the last book!”, “I’m never going to finish another book!”, “Seriously, why is this book so much worse than the one before?” are, along with “I quit,” common thoughts I’ve had in this situation. If this is you, my advice is: take your time. Don’t rush into writing. Don’t force it, especially not when you’re stressed. Write slow, and write for you. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to finish; it just matters that you do. (And, I promise, YOU WILL FINISH.)
Works: MUSIC. Listening to music, but especially songs that are longtime favorites of yours, helps endlessly to relax and distract you.
Works: Take a breath. Seriously. Just do it. Whenever you’re feeling stressed over waiting, take a breath. Close your computer, turn off your phone. Get away from it all. Because you are awesome. You really are. And as hard as waiting might seem, and as stressful as it might be, you will eventually get your good news. It could happen with this book or it could happen with the next one, but I strongly believe that it will happen.
Keep at it. You’re a writer, right? Storytelling is in your blood. Whatever feedback you get won’t change that. <3