Monday, 22 September 2008

The Waiting Game by Penny Dolan

Often writing is about waiting: not the creative waiting while you gather ideas, but the dull administration level of waiting.

For example, the waiting for the arrival of publisher’s briefs. These are short descriptions of the age-range, format, word counts, style & content of books that publishers intend to put on their lists. Often there are no briefs for months. Then like buses, three or four arrive at the same time, all describing destinations where your story won’t go. You have some Harry the Toad stories? They want edgy teenage tales. You’ve created Velda the Vampire, a linguistically challenging tale of fright and fear? It’s the 5-7s this time, dear author. Even if you can adapt an earlier idea and send it in, do not imagine that’s the end of the waiting.

Then you must wait while consultants are consulted, and teams meet. You must wait while – maybe - the idea they “really liked” becomes the one they “really chose”. Then comes waiting for the contract, for the editing of the text, for the roughs and sketches and covers and proofs and money and eventually for the book itself. All this can take up to two years, or longer. Most times you don’t hear, and the waiting fades into a long silence. It’s a game you have to get used to.

However, it can also be quite a dangerous game, especially when you have submitted some real writing that you care about, maybe not written for a brief or a format. At such times, the small niggle that is “I wonder what happened about x?” shuffles from its hiding place behind your paper-trays. In weeks, it grows big enough to crouch in constant sight, blinking with annoyance, even when you try to hide it away again. The niggle cannot be ignored. It lurks by the phone. It peers around the computer screen. It starts a constant grumbling, whining commentary about your story, about publishers, about your writing, about everyone else’s much better writing and luckier chances. Like the frog, it sleeps on your pillow, waking you at night, but never becoming a smiling prince. Like the brass chronophage on the new clock in Cambridge, it devours every minute of your thoughts.

And this is that dangerous stage. This is when you can cease being a writer and becomes one who waits. The creativity goes, the will goes, the faith and hope and generosity goes and there is nothing but the ticking of time. You need to shut off that dreaded nagging sound, and get back to the page. A writer is someone who writes, not waits. I must remember that!

4 comments:

Nick Green said...

A friend of mine once remarked, "The patience of a writer, surely? Saints have nothing on us."

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I find all the waiting involved incredibly painful. It took two years from acquisition to publication of my first novel - and felt like NOTHING was happening. It was, of course, but nothing that helped me get through the time!

Lynne Chapman said...

Hi Penny - that was really interesting reading. I've never been much good at waiting for anything...

Pendlebury said...

Well Penny: I never knew! We spoke a few times while you were waiting and you seemed so, erm, normal. Well done for keeping up your iron will and smiley face. And hurrah for you, the first part of the waiting - they WANT the story and were prepared to make an offer - is over. And hurrah for you, there were other publishers interested and there was healthy competition. For the rest of us, hurrah again, waiting part 94 the DECISION - is over, and you now know where the world's best story is to be launched.

Now it WE out here who have to wait. Bloody hell can't they publish it tomorrow, or the middle of next month. Please advise and guide us: how do WE deal with WAITING? We know it will be worth it, but meanwhile ...

love from
Pendlebury