At least, that’s what it seems like.
When interviewed, writers are always asked the same questions – about process; about productivity; about motivation and inspiration and ‘sticking with it.’ I’ve never read an interview where one writer asked another, “What do you do while you’re in the waiting phase?”
It’s weird. EVERYONE knows what this is, and how horrible it is. Why don’t we ADDRESS it more?
I once submitted an article and didn’t hear back from the editor for SIX MONTHS. I just received a message a few days ago from a prospective client asking me if I was still interested in working with them … even though I first reached out to them FOUR MONTHS AGO.
As a writer, at least at the stage I’m in, you still jump at opportunities even when people take a reallllllly long time to get back to you.
Usually, you can just move on to the next thing and (almost) forget about that email that hasn’t shown up in your inbox yet.
But when it’s something you really want … waiting is worse than being rejected. 100 percent. I would much rather be told, “No, we don’t want you” than wait, and wait, and wait, with no answer.
Full disclosure – I used to be the managing editor of a magazine. People pitched me article ideas all the time. I had a 24-hours-or-less response time rule. The only reason I could do that was because this was a small magazine. I have never worked for a Big Company That Publishes Stuff, so I can only assume that reasonable response times are just one of those Things That Aren’t Physically Possible.
But that doesn’t make it any less painful, on the writing end of the process.
Writers spend a lot of time waiting. They work really hard to pitch ideas or propose services or put together their best writing samples, they send them off with high hopes, and then … they wait. And wait.
And the thing about waiting is, sometimes, you do a lot of waiting for no good reason. Or you do a lot of waiting, and someone actually wants to move things forward with you.
A long wait doesn’t always signal bad news. Which doesn’t make things any easier, because WE JUST WANT TO KNOW, GOSH DARN IT. We’re not going to faint at the sight of a generic rejection email. We’re immune to those. Just tell it to us straight. We can take it.
Even when good things are happening, we wait. Your book’s all done, it’s all edited, everything’s great, except your publishing date is still, like, 8 months away.
No writer, regardless of success level, can escape the waiting curse. Agreeing to take writing on as your profession of choice also entails signing your soul over to the waiting gods. You’re going to do a lot of waiting over the course of the rest of your life.
Getting hired to write – whether it’s a publishing contract or signing on with a new client or managing to get a full-time writing job somehow – is one of the most anxiety-inducing processes you’ll encounter. Because it is never one step, two step, three step, you’re hired! You take one step – nope, sorry, we chose someone else. Back to the starting line. You take one step again – and then two – nope, sorry, this isn’t really what we’re looking for after all.
It happens like this: you gather up the courage to apply to a thing, with a deadline. Time passes. More time passes. You get an email saying wow! You’re a talented writer with all the right experience! But we’ve chosen to move forward with someone else.
And then you start again. Apply. Wait. Wow – you’re awesome – how about you send us some of your work? They love the work … but you’re just not the right fit right now.
Next time, you make it all the way to the end of the waiting game … and still, you don’t quite make the cut.
That’s a lot of waiting, over and over and over again, for what seems like zero net gain.
Except you’ve gained a lot. You may have lost all your patience by this point, but you’re training yourself to expect that things in the wonderful world of publishing take FOREVER. The outcome is sometimes good, sometimes not – but not all good things happen instantaneously. The better we are at waiting, the more willing we are to go after the things we want – even if it means casually refreshing our email every five minutes for three weeks, just in case.
Waiting sucks – there’s no denying that. But it means you’re actively trying to make things happen, which is how, eventually, success happens.
And I can guarantee, there will come a day when someone will compliment your writing and/or your experience. And then they will either let you pitch something or they will ask if you can write something. And then they’ll like what you’ve written. And then – at last – they will ask you to write for them for an extended period of time, because they are confident you have earned that chance.
Maybe it will all happen very slowly. Maybe on a very small scale – much smaller than you initially dreamed of. But this day will come. And you will have many more days like this one, except some will be better than this, and some won’t be as good – but they will BE, which is better than NOT being anything at all.
Writing is hard. Asking to be published is hard. Waiting is even harder. But it’s those who can endure the hardest part – the seemingly endless stream of nothingness – that can survive it all.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
3 thoughts on “Humans Spend One-Third of Their Lives Sleeping; Writers Spend One-Third of Their Careers … Waiting”
Meg, thank you so much for this post. It came at a time when I am questioning why I’m blogging in the first place. When stats don’t dramatically change after a few months one can be left wondering why they continue. Like you said, the waiting will result in success. Just like waiting when we pitch the article, we also wait for our blogs to grow. If patient enough, one day it will blow up…Hopefully?
Completely understand that feeling. :) Growth is inevitable. The numbers might climb gradually, and I know, that’s not very satisfying, but it does happen – even at a small scale. The only reason my blog has grown at all over the past 2 years is consistency. I keep posting and people keep showing up. haha.