I’ve been thinking a lot about timing recently. And about how much waiting is involved in writing books and wanting to get them published. Why have I been thinking about these two things? Because they both have a number of implications for my life and my writing at the moment.
Essentially my main question is what do you ‘do’ when you’ve written a book and are waiting for feedback on it? Do you put your feet up and have a rest? Or do you get on and write something else?
I’m not great at sitting around, treading water. I like to get started with the next project because it a) gives me a means of distraction, b) makes me feel that I’m doing something constructive, and c) offers an insurance policy of sorts. But in this situation it can be difficult to decide what exactly to get started on next. If what you’ve written is a standalone novel, you can plunge into plotting and writing the next one. If you’ve written the first book in a series, your decisions are more complex. Do you assume that the first book is okay-ish, and start writing the next one in the series? Do you assume it’s rubbish and cut your losses? Or do you keep your options open and attempt to keep both sets of balls in the air? Or is it in fact better to be patient and wait for that feedback to come in and, er … do nothing? And what if that feedback never comes in? Decisions, decisions.
For me, personally, I’ve always believed that you have to be positive in life but also realistic. I know how difficult it is to get a publishing contract in an already over-crowded market. Since finishing my first novel – and when I say finishing it I mean getting it as good as I can get it for now – I’ve plotted the next book in the series, and have also plotted a whole new novel, nothing to do with the first one. This is a different type of crime novel from the first one. I’ve realised there are a number of implications to each potential writing choice. If I continue writing my series, without feedback on Book One, I may be unwittingly repeating mistakes I’ve made. If I start on something different I may not want to return to my series. Oh darnit. It’s not easy, is it?
I also believe that nothing is really ‘a waste of time’ as long as you keep writing, and keep reflecting on your writing. So even if you start on a short story or an experimental piece, you will still learn from that. Perhaps there isn’t a right or wrong way of handling the situation. You just have to do what works for you. At times it does feel disconcerting. But what I’ve realised in life is that sometimes you do just have to wait and put up with not knowing what’s going to happen. It’s hard, particularly when what’s at stake means a lot to you. That means finding strategies to cope with the frustration that waiting causes.
For me, one way to cope with uncertainty is knowing I have options. And that means creating a Plan B and a Plan C. It means knowing what I will do if this situation arises, or that one. It also means making sure that I have the psychological flexibility to cope with possible outcomes, to not be immobilised by not knowing how things are going to pan out. And – it also means that I have to feel confident that I can cope with the unexpected too.
When you’ve finished a book it’s a good time to reflect on it. To leave it to breathe for a while and then be brutally honest with yourself about what needs to be done. If you don’t know, you can get some advice or get it read by a few people. I’ve enjoyed leaving my book on my Kindle. It’s not been forgotten; it’s in both my conscious and unconscious mind. I still wake up thinking, “damn, I forgot x”, or “there’s not enough y”. And I write it down, and will use that running list when I return to Book One in due course.
Waiting sucks. But it can be used to your advantage and psychologically that can help you to feel more in control. You can use it as a period of reflection, planning, research and reading. And that’s not so bad because it still feels constructive. It’s also a good time to update your website and blog, and to think about how you could access alternative or supplementary sources of income. I like to take photographs and jot notes of things which I want to include in future pieces of writing. Often it’s characters, titles and places.
Of course, another option is to submit your book and then take off on holiday and forget all about it. On that note, if anyone has a villa on Lake Garda that’s lying empty, I’d be happy to look after the plants and open and close shutters every day in exchange for bed and board. Just kidding, people: I have my house to move into in two weeks time.
Vicky Newham © 2013