Laura and I didn't plan this, but her post on Query Survival a few weeks ago came at a perfect time. She walked us through the preparation for sending queries and dealing with rejection, and today my focus is on the time in between - the days, weeks, or months after you send your query before you hear anything back.
Patience is not my strong point. Whether it's dealing with my young boys, making a purchase, or holding off to tell someone good news, waiting is really a challenge for me.
But I have found submitting my manuscript to be the hardest waiting of all.
I'm sure my fellow writers can commiserate. You work so hard, writing that first draft and then editing and polishing every sentence, paragraph, and chapter until you hope your story shines. You fret over the query letter, proposal, or synopsis - how much detail should I include, how do I boil my story down to a page or even a few paragraphs? You research contests, agents, or publishers until you think you've found a perfect fit. Then, at last, you double-check the submission requirements, review the e-mail or form one last time, and hit "Send."
You did it! You were brave enough to submit your manuscript, and this could be the beginning of all your publishing dreams coming true. But now what? Will they read it tonight? Or in six months? If you're anything like me, you start to check your e-mail religiously, at times resorting to pressing the "refresh" button every few minutes. Some days you spend extra time on social media to see if you can glean a clue to whether anyone has taken a look at your manuscript yet. But in the end, nothing will speed the process. Checking your e-mail a million times won't make them respond any faster. You just have to WAIT.
As I'm writing this, I am in the midst of the waiting game. It feels a little like that scene in Tangled where Rapunzel vacillates between exhilaration and uncertainty a dozen times. What if they love it? What if they hate it? What if they can't wait to publish it? What if they think no one will ever want to read it? What if they didn't even get my submission?!
Now, I can't profess to be an expert at this waiting game, because if anything I'm probably more neurotically impatient than the average writer. But, in the past weeks I've found a few strategies that can at least make the wait slightly less painful:
1. Get away from your computer / phone
This can be hard when you're waiting for that all-important e-mail, but it's so worth it. Get out and enjoy nature, see your friends, do some shopping, etc. If you have to take your smartphone with you, silence it. Engaging with the outside world provides a great distraction and important perspective. It can be so easy for writers to get caught up in their own minds - that's where the story creation starts, after all! - but getting out of that bubble helps reinforce that there is so much life beyond your story and your potential publishing contract. So many opportunities, so many projects worthy of your attention, so many other people trying to accomplish their dreams.
2. Indulge in engaging entertainment
Along similar lines to the suggestion above, letting yourself get swept away in your favorite form of entertainment can be an effective way to spend hours at a time not thinking about your submission. It can be movies, TV, a video game, a sport, whatever will engage your mind so fully you won't be tempted to check your e-mail. For me, it's reading (shocker, right?). I've been reading some intense speculative fiction lately, but a few days ago I scanned my bookshelves and chose a lighthearted romance. And it's been such fun! I've spent the past two evenings blissfully losing myself in these delightful characters, smiling at their sweet interactions, and pondering the mystery of an abandoned house. Meanwhile, my computer and phone sit in another room. Out of sight, out of mind.
3. Find a sympathetic listener
While it may be tempting to vent about the trials of the waiting game on your Facebook or Twitter account, I wouldn't recommend burning any bridges in that way. But, if you have a friend or family member who is particularly interested in your writing or just a good listener, opening up to them can really help. Just last evening, a friend who has been thoughtful enough to ask about my writing many times inquired if I had any updates. I took the plunge and told her I had submitted my manuscript to several publishers and shared the expected wait times, and although she's not a writer herself, she listened eagerly and completely sympathized with how hard it must be to wait to hear back on a project that's so dear to your heart. Following that conversation, I felt better.
4. Start a new project
I've heard this advice so many times I felt I had to include it, but I'll admit, thus far it's never worked for me. The concept makes perfect sense - if you start writing something new, you'll get excited about that and have something waiting in the wings if the manuscript you've submitted doesn't get the results you'd like. But my problem is that it takes me a while to distance myself enough from one project to embrace another. As the querying process goes on, I may need to tweak my query letter or create a synopsis of a different length to fit someone's submission requirements, which brings me back to the heart of my story. Or I may receive feedback in a rejection that I want to incorporate and thus delve into another round of edits. I ended up doing at least two major revisions during the process of querying my first manuscript. For me, that possibility makes it hard to put my heart and soul into a new project until I've set the old one aside. But if you can balance multiple writing projects better than I can, diverting your energies to a new story may be the most productive way to handle the wait.
5. Help fellow writers
I'm going to be brutally honest here. Pursuing publication can sometimes bring out the worst in me, beyond just impatience. Competition, jealousy - my mind can be a very ugly place at times. Suddenly the writer friends I've been cheering on become enemies who might snatch up the opportunity I was hoping for. I scrutinize other writers' work, trying to calculate whether they have a better shot than I do. It's not pretty, and I'm not proud of it. But recently when I was feeling in competition with a writer friend, I made myself write her an e-mail wishing her luck. In the process, I realized I really did wish her the best on her queries, and those negative feelings lost their hold. It happened again when I helped a friend polish up her submission materials. At first I felt awkward, knowing she was sending them to a publisher I had also submitted to that presumably had limited slots to fill with new authors. But as I began to type my comments and suggestions, I got engaged in truly helping my friend make her work the best it could be, because that's what I want for her. By overcoming my reluctance and helping the fellow writers I felt in competition with, it's like my true self fought past those petty emotions to shine through and remind me that I can rise above those ugly moments to be the thoughtful, caring person I want to be.
This sounds so obvious, but at least for me, it can be easily overlooked. I tend to let my problems bubble inside for far too long before I take them to my Creator. But so much peace can flow from those still moments of prayer, where I finally let myself go and recognize that the control isn't in my hands. But it doesn't always happen right away. Lately I've been praying for patience every day, but feeling just as impatient as ever. Then as I was driving last night, thinking through aspects of my story, my eyes were drawn to the brightest shooting star I've ever seen. While logically I know thousands of people probably saw that same shooting star, this sense of peace and contentment settled deep within, as though it had been intended just for me. In some strange way it felt like a promise - that my publishing dreams may not come true this week, this month, or even with this manuscript, but God has a beautiful plan for me, if I can just persevere long enough to see it through.
So there you have it! I hope at least something in this post has resonated with you and that sharing about my time of waiting can help make your current or future waiting game a bit more tolerable.
Do you struggle with patience? Can you think of any waiting tips I missed?
Thanks for reading!