I dreamed of the day I would hold my finished novel in my hand, ready to be sent off into the world to land on mountainous slush piles and into the bursting email inboxes of literary agents.
‘Oh, I shall dance and stand victoriously on the dining table!’ I thought. ‘Then I’ll throw up the sash and just like Scrooge, I’ll shout, “Hey, you boy! I have written a book! A novel. Go to the butchery and buy the biggest goose they have to celebrate and feed the town!” Yes, nothing will be able to shake me. It’ll be nothing but smiles and excitement, for I would have written a book. That was something I was definitely prepared for.
However, something I certainly was not prepared for, was the rollercoaster that is the submission process; the excitement of pressing send, the burst of unshakable, proud belief in your work as it hurtles towards the inbox of a chosen literary agent, and then the minutely refreshes of email, the grief of missing your characters, and the random middle-of-the-night terror of ‘I hate my book. It’s terrible. I should never write again, let alone send it out to professionals. I should stick to ironing and tax returns.’
Having been through it a couple of times now, and being in the eye of it as I type, I have spent many an hour scouring books, blogs and videos for advice on how to stop the brain from frazzling during the waiting period which follows after submitting your manuscript, hopeful that I’ll suddenly stumble upon an experienced, wise author who has a magic herbal remedy for it. ‘Blend, stir and sip. In two hours, you will be at ease and will check your email only once a week’. While I haven’t yet found such magic, I have found some things that have been extremely helpful in ensuring my mind is not forever lost during the waiting game, and if you’re there, with me, I hope they help you too.
Start something else
It can be hard to do - dragging yourself away from refreshing your email, and redirecting your brain power from thinking about your submission, from wondering if today will bring with it an exciting verdict and onto something new, but this one has certainly kept my marbles from spilling out of the side of my head. Start something else – anything. Plot your next book, start the research for that new idea or start writing it. “Getting into” something else helps keep your writing fingers oiled but most importantly, it keeps your mind occupied. There is, of course, the added bonus of looking like a hard-working, writing powerhouse when you do get “the call” and have even more material to show your shiny, new agent, too!
Take a break
Once you’ve finished your manuscript, crafting and compiling a perfect package of sample, cover letter and synopsis is a project in itself, and a consuming one. Now it’s done, take a break and relax. Give your brain a well-earned breather and do what you fantasised about doing when you were in the sweaty, frustrated, hair-tugging throes of trying to narrow your synopsis down to one neat page. Box-set binge, read, bake, eat out, walk, meet friends, start a computer game, have baths that you stay in until you wrinkle. Relax. Find enjoyable distractions.
Don’t read your novel
Just like you left it in a drawer before starting on the final, 79th read-through, don’t read your manuscript. Submit it, and then leave it in that padlocked drawer again. Just don’t look at it. While there’s a chance you may read it and think ‘Wowza, I’m good,’ if you’re anything like me, you’ll more than likely just see things you dislike because you’re looking for them. Then you’ll just convince yourself that you’re about to become the owner of so many rejection letters that you’ll be able to make a paper fort from them.
Talk to other writers
I remember wanting to fire arrows at my boyfriend when innocently, he asked, “Heard from any agents yet? It’s been about two weeks, hasn’t it?”. It’s been fifteen days, seven hours and 43 minutes since my last submission, I told him, and I’ll have you know that I could be waiting weeks, months, years... eternities. His grimace said ‘Jeez. Rather you than me’. Writers understand. They understand the patience involved, the waiting, the excitement and the self-doubt, and there are loads of us out there; right here, at Writers & Artists, on forums, Twitter, YouTube and of course, at writing workshops and groups. Talk to writers, call your writer friends, read writers’ forum posts and blogs, clink your glass in solidarity to their rejections, and revel in and be lifted by their success stories, because there are plenty. Writing is such a solitary thing, and every now and then, we just need to hear ‘me too’ to help calm the churning.
It seems that to be a writer is to surrender to waiting. Whether you’re waiting to finish your novel, waiting to hear from an agent with your first novel, or waiting to hear from an editor about your sixth, waiting is something writers must get used to, honing our patience and collecting distraction strategies as we go, so we eventually have a full arsenal of them. It’s just as Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird: ‘I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer.’
Lia is a mum-of-one, working as a copywriter and studying for a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her first novel, Bubbles, is in the submission process and she is currently writing her second novel. She lives at home, in Hertfordshire, with her boyfriend, three year old, and stacks of clothes and books. Find her on Twitter here.