The waiting game

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.

Japan 2014

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….







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  1. Artistic processes are all so different! I so admire my writer friends because it is just such a solitary process and, as I have experienced from the little I have written, holding all that information in your head borders on madness. At least with a painting it is outside of you, it is over there and you can walk to and from it, move it from place to place and very easily, and as I have done on many an occasion, white it out altogether. But you writers hold all those characters, complicated plots, vivid research, lyrical descriptions inside. It is an amazing talent to have.

    And I suppose all artistic processes require waiting. I am currently waiting to hear from the RA, and if it is good news, it will involve yet more waiting …

    But to answer your question, I always have to have more than one project on the go. And that’s even when I am not waiting. If I only have one painting on the boil then I tend to over work it and I value lightness in my work.

    So here’s to your waiting – and may it bring rewards and adventures of nourishment and joy.

    • It’s a bonkers way of life, it’s true, but as you know from painting, there is simply no option. But I think you’re right about having different things on the go – in fact, the analogy of having separate paintings is very helpful. I can feel the stirrings of further projects – a title that is hanging about in my head, an event, a character. Seems to be a matter of letting them loose now and then. And thanks for your generous wishes!

  2. I wait extremely badly. And having received god knows how many ‘nice’ rejections over the last few years I’ve decided to stop waiting and self-publish. I’m sort of in the middle of it at the moment but so far I’m extremely glad to have done it. Coming from a traditional publishing background it has taken a big change of perspective but in the end I thought either I do this or I stop writing altogether and I can’t imagine what my life would look like without writing. Starting another project might help but ‘other projects’ may or may not come up when you want them to. The good thing about other projects is that your energy is given something else to focus on other than the waiting. It’s the powerlessness of waiting that is the real f****r I find. Good luck with it and finding things to distract you while it’s going on. If you’ve got ideas for a new book I’d say plunge in…

    • You’re all so brave you writers …

    • Yes, it’s definitely the powerlessness that’s the issue. I really admire you for taking the self-publishing route which must entail a whole other set of skills but is probably rather interesting in itself. I looked into it once and the thing that scared me was distribution. But your background in book-selling will be gold (and I’m happy to do what I can for you in Australia). As you say, life is unimaginable without writing.

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