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:: Archived Articles ::

Reinventing the Wait

Published In The Kiss of Death, January/February 2007

It can take years. Literally. Publishing houses can sit on our manuscripts while we wait to hear. They have a “no simultaneous submission” rule, so even when a writer has an agent, the wait can be agonizing. We carry our cell phones on us, just in case the call comes in. It may have been months, even half a year, and yet we still check our messages as soon as we get home from running errands.

When a letter arrives in our mailbox with that anticipated letterhead in the upper left hand corner, we stare at the envelope, maybe turn it over in our fingers a couple times, afraid to open it even though we already know that it’s far too thin to be an acceptance letter. When we finally dig up the courage to tear off the end, we find it’s a thank you note for the assorted box of Starbucks coffee we sent them for Christmas.

We sigh. We might even laugh a little.

And then we wait some more.

This process can go on for years. The process of writing one book, researching it, creating the characters and scenes and location. We finish it, we edit and we submit it. And then we start the wait.

Or, we can try another way, a way that keeps us working all the time. Not just on our books, but on other aspects of our careers. Aspects that not only keep our minds fresh and our fingers nimble, but ways that keep our name in the minds of agents and editors, of other writers or people in the business who might want to remember us.

We can reinvent the way we wait. We can recognize that there are a multitude of facets to writing that goes beyond just producing a book.

Sometimes, it’s just not enough to be producing novels. It might be time to look at our goals for the next six months or a year and see where it is we want to be when those calendar months are over. Published, we want to say. Secure in a book deal, we might add.

But the truth of the matter is that whether or not our book sells next week, next month or next year is totally out of our hands. Once we put the manuscript in the mail, it is up to the agents and editors to do their jobs while we continue to write.

What is in our hands is what we do with the time while we are waiting.

We can work on our next book. That much is a given. The second book has to be ready if the editor buys the first book. And if the editor says no, well then we still have another book to send out the door and double our chances while we circulate both one and two.

However, there is more to a writing career then just books. Have you ever happened to catch Stephen King’s regular article in Entertainment Weekly? Or attended a workshop given by Suzanne Brockmann or Debbie Macomber? Last year in Atlanta, Nora Roberts not only did interviews with writers, but she gave the speech at the PAN luncheon.

These people are putting their time and energy into other areas of their career as well as just turning out their novels. Each one of these activities requires preparation and writing and time.

In his book Time Management for Writers, Ted Schwarz suggests that it is wise to write in a variety of areas in order to utilize your time more effectively. “You can be researching for one project, interviewing for another and writing a third. As you become tired of one, another is fresh in your mind.”

And if you come to think of it, it’s perfect practice for when the book deals do start pouring in. Once you have a signed contract, you will be expected to edit that manuscript -– while working on the next project. And if you are luckily enough to be on your third book deal or beyond, then you are going to need to promote the one you wrote way back when.

“In general, it’s best to write in the same manner that you would work in other fields,” Mr. Schwarz says in the above-named book. “A normal workday in an office, a factory, school or other place of employment is constantly changing. You are doing paperwork. Having meetings, selling, teaching, tuning up an engine, making a change for a customer or whatever. To do otherwise would become boring. You would begin slowing your pace. You would talk of ‘burn out’, just as writer’s talk of ‘writers’ block.’”

So we reinvent the way we wait. We just don’t look at the page quota that we have to put out each day to finish that novel. We look into other ways to work in the business, how to create a career.

We can volunteer to help with our chapter. Maybe it can be as elaborate as assisting the treasurer or as simple as judging their annual contest. We can volunteer for RWA, working at the national conference to introduce speakers. We can write articles and submit them to RWR or a local chapter newsletter. If it comes back, recheck the Writer’s Market and see where else it might fit. And it doesn’t just have to be an article on writing. Do you have a hobby? An area of expertise? Do you cook or garden or have some advice for a parenting magazine? Look at the entries in the Writer’s Market and see where you can submit.

Do you have a web page? Then it requires regular maintenance. And if you don’t, have you thought about getting one? It is a great place to organize and display your collection of work. It gives an editor a place to go and see what you have been doing.

Contests. Some writer’s swear by them. Others don’t think they are a place to waste your energy and money. But if you look down at the final round contest judges and the editor you have been wanting to present to is listed, then you just might have a shot at getting your manuscript into their hands.

Writing is the process of putting words onto the page and turning out a story that other people will want to read. A writing career is a series of jobs, all rolled into together that make up just that – a career.

It’s up to us, as the managers of our careers, to figure out where best to put our time to make the most out of what we have. We have to write the books, but there are so many other things we can do to further ourselves along the industry path. It’s a balancing act, of course, an act of inventing the writer we envision and then putting a plan into action to get us exactly where we want to be.

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