Monday, December 17, 2012

A Writer's Life in the Waiting Room

by Stephanie Morrill

In general, I'm a big fan of Dr. Seuss. I loved his books as a kid, and I love reading them to my kids as well. Until recently, though, I had never read Oh, the Places You'll Go! It wasn't on my bookshelf until I graduated high school, and then I never bothered with reading it until my daughter pulled it off the shelf one day.

It's a fun book, and I totally enjoyed it as the character wandered through the magical places, the places with unnamed roads, and so forth. It was all great until we arrived at, "a most useless place. The Waiting Place."
...for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come...
On it goes for a few lines of the various things people in The Waiting Place are waiting for, snow, Friday night, etc. And then:
Everyone is just waiting.
NO! That's not for you! Somehow you'll escape all that waiting and staying. You'll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.
As I read the rest of the book, I was completely distracted by how I totally disagreed with that. Life involves lots of inescapable waiting on its own, but the writing life? For writers, our Boom Bands days are few and far between.

We're constantly waiting. Like when a story isn't working like we know it should, and we set it aside and wait until we figure out the answer. Or when we send in a contest entry, we wait to hear back from the judges. We send our stories to critique partners, then we wait to hear what they think of them. And we send out queries to agents and editors, then wait and wait and wait to hear back.

When you're published, you wait for it to be your turn with your editor. You wait for content edits and line edits and sales numbers. You wait for the pub board to decide if you're worth investing in again. You wait for big name authors to respond to the hopeful emails you sent about endorsing your books.

Since Dr. Seuss' was an artist and writer, and since The Cat In the Hat was rejected a ridiculous amount of times, I'm guessing he understood that waiting was a part of life.

But there's a difference between waiting and just waiting, isn't there?

You know how when you go to the dentist and you know you'll be forced to sit in the waiting room for a bit of time? You take a book with you, right? As a writer, you can make a similar choice. And the earlier you learn to do it, the better off you'll be because writers get put in that waiting room a lot.

Here's a list of things you can do while you wait:

  • Brainstorm another book.
  • Write another book.
  • Read a book on writing (like Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass)
  • Write a few articles and work to get them published.
  • Enter a writing contest.
  • Try a different form of story, like a screenplay or a novel in verse.
  • Read several books in your genre that are successful. Study them and make a list of why you think they work so well.
  • Try coming up with a story that fits a different genre than what you normally write.
  • Design your book cover
  • Browse the bookstore and pay attention to what catches your eye, especially for authors you've never heard of. What titles make you curious enough to glance at the back cover copy? What back cover copy intrigues you enough to make you open the book? Which first lines hook you into the story?
  • Take the time to send a handwritten letter to your favorite author. Don't ask for anything, just tell them what you about their books.
Are you waiting for anything writing-related right now? What are some other ideas we can add to this list?

p.s. If you're waiting for me to respond to your email, I apologize! I'm crazy behind at the moment due to revisions, the Go Teen Writers writing contest and challenge wrapping up, and celebrating my daughter's 5th birthday last Friday. But I'm working hard to catch up, and I really appreciate your patience.

McKenna at her party enjoying her new Rapunzel doll 


  1. I just finished a long period of waiting to figure out my plot. For some reason, I started writing my WIP before I figured that out, and about a month ago I realized, "You know? This isn't working!" I kept writing as I tried to pin down exactly why, and eventually I figured it out. Then, I kept writing some more and--poof!--yesterday it just appeared! Whoo!

    I just decided to start over from the beginning in a new document, then later see what I can salvage. Should be a good bit, but it definitely will need some rewriting...

    Okay, I really don't know how related that is.

    Oh, and happy birthday McKenna!

    1. Yay, Amanda! I'm so glad you figured it out. I've had to go about finding my plot like that sometimes too :)

      And thank you :) McKenna had a wonderful birthday.

  2. I am in a big area of waiting now. I am searching for an agent for my novella and so much of that time is waiting for e-mails that so far have all come back "no." But, I can say that I have done everything on that list except three things. It really does help the wait.

    1. I've been in that same place you are, Alyson. I'm glad to hear you're using your time well!

  3. I think that after you've written your first draft of a book, you whole writing career involved a little bit of waiting. Right now I'm waiting for a contest, waiting to give my novel some space, and waiting to write a final draft I am please with.
    Thanks for the great post, Stephanie!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    1. I agree, Sarah. That first full draft is a real game-changer.

  4. I think that "just" is crucial too. Kinda like all those people who never get around to actually WRITING. I think it's telling that in the Waiting Place, people ONLY wait. Nothing ever happens. But if, as you say, you're working on something different while waiting in one respect, you're not really in that Place.

    So another thing to add to your awesome list of ways not to JUST wait is to find a way to give back from the industry you want to receive from. Write reviews for your favorite authors. Talk about them to your librarians and bookstore owners. Critique for other aspiring novelists. That sort of thing. =)

  5. As writers we should start decorating the waiting room! I entered a contest and am waiting for feedback. I say feedback because I'd not expect to win or even make the next round. This whole time waiting for results I keep thinking that its a short time compared to waiting on publishers and agents. I've bent dying to tell myself to get used to it if I want to be a writer, it doesn't make it anymore fun, *sigh*

    1. P.S. happy Birthday miss McKenna!

    2. Lol - decorating the waiting room, I love it! Some writers hang their rejection slips on the wall. I guess that's a form of decorating it, right? :)

      And, thank you :)

  6. Thank you, Stephanie, for the wonderful post! I found it most encouraging. :-)

  7. I agree completely! I've had queries out for weeks. Every time I see the bold (1) I get all excited, and it's only a form rejection, or worse, a google alert. During my waiting time, I write beginnings to stories that turn out to be plot-less and after much internal debate end up buried in WIP folders on my computer. It isn't a waste though - someday I'll land on an idea that works, and in the meantime, practice makes perfect! Good post, Stephanie!

  8. Thanks Stephanie! I agree! I never thought much about it before but I guess your right! I having sent out any queries yet but I'm still waiting to finish writing first! =P
    Wait, wait, wait... It sure can drive you crazy!

  9. I'm not really waiting as I'm going to start editing my first draft soon, although I suppose I'm waiting to get some feedback from my alpha/beta readers. I haven't really gotten to the waiting stage, though. It seems like it will drive me crazy, but maybe once I get there I'll be more mature and more ready to accept waiting as part of the process. Right now, though, I'm much too headstrong for that sort of thing. :) Thanks for the post, Stephanie! I'm sure this will come in handy in the future.

  10. she's freaking adorable! And great tips- I'm waiting to read my first draft i wrote for NaNoWrimo- so i'm working on another novel- oh yeah, and midterms. Ew.

  11. Love this post. I'm not a patient person by nature and writing has actually helped me improve in this area. There is a quote from missionary Jim Elliot that I love. He says, "Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God." No matter where we are in life, we're always waiting for something. Seasons of waiting can be great opportunities to accomplish other things. I call it, "waiting to the hilt."

  12. A good post. Encouraging. I'm waiting...for so many writing-related things. ;) I haven't read that Dr Suess book, but I've always liked the quote "Oh the places you'll go." I try to keep that in mind when my writing isn't working. I can still go places.

  13. Great post, Stephanie! The waiting never ends.