There’s one aspect of writing that few people mention and that’s all the waiting. I don’t mean waiting for divine inspiration but the plodding, seemingly endless wait for approval. Because when you’ve written a book, especially a novel, it will be scrutinized by many eyes before it can possibly make its debut on the bookstore shelf or in the e-reader library. And that takes time.
This waiting is part of the process of writing but definitely not the fun bit. I love editing and, like most writers, will happily go through anything I’ve written a million times and still find things to change. I don’t think it’s actually ever complete but there comes the moment when a little voice in your head says, “Oy, enough already” (because for some reason the little voice in my head appears to be a Jewish stereotype). And off it must go, out into the wide and hostile world.
If you have an agent then that’s the first hurdle. I’m lucky enough to have an agent who is totally honest and doesn’t waste time being gentle with me. I love her honesty because I know that she is looking to get the best out of me. It’s such a gift when someone you respect tells you a character stinks and how one plot device is ridiculous…because usually you knew that already and you were hoping that no one else would notice. She does say good things, too.
When you’ve made changes that you’re happy with then the manuscript starts to make its way to appropriate publishers. I don’t think anyone’s draft is picked up immediately and every writer becomes familiar with those thank-you-but-no letters and the perplexing ‘such a lovely book, sublime writing, great wit, clever plot…but not for us, thanks’ responses. You wait for someone who likes it and wants to publish it.
Once you do secure a deal then you’ll have to wait some more – for the editor to appraise it, for marketing to take a look, for the cover designer to come back with something suitable, for the grammar editor to do the final trawl through it. In between you’ll be required to make more changes or defend why you don’t want to make any changes. At times you may feel that no one is understanding your little baby, and wonder why no one seems to like that killer joke on page 198 (although eventually you’ll be glad someone put it out of its misery).
At least a year after you thought your manuscript was finished, it might be released. That gentle time, sitting alone in a room struggling with a character or on a high when it’s all going so well, will feel like ancient history. Now the book is out there, being appraised by a whole new set of people, the readers. It’s a rush of pure joy, a feeling like no other. And just like childbirth (apparently) you’ll forget the agony of that waiting period until the next time.
I’m interested to hear how other writers cope with this process of waiting. Do you get on with other projects – like Alexander McCall Smith who seems to write three or four novels simultaneously? Or are you a Donna Tartt, taking years to start the next novel? How do you wait?
Tell me, please, because I’m reaching the end of my Zen….