word craft



hourglass waitingThere are many skills that pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers have to mas­ter. I’m sure we could all think of many at the click of a com­put­er key. Among the many are Lan­guage, Imag­i­na­tion, Per­se­ver­ance, Work habits, Knowl­edge of Vocab­u­lary, and Gram­mar. It’s easy to go on, and I am sure you can think of many oth­ers to add to this list. But one of the skills a writer must mas­ter is one that I don’t think is often men­tioned: waiting.

As Jane Austen wrote in Mans­field Park. “When peo­ple are wait­ing, they are bad judges of time, and every half minute seems like five.” 

Many a writer waits for inspi­ra­tion. That’s not usu­al­ly my prob­lem but it does hap­pen, and one must learn to respect that. There is, how­ev­er, wait­ing while in the very process of writ­ing. One often comes upon the phrase—or some­thing similar—“After a decade since their last book author X is now—at last—about to pub­lish a new work.” Both writer and faith­ful read­er have been waiting.

The fastest time I ever expe­ri­enced a book writ­ten and pub­lished was Encounter at Eas­t­on. Start to fin­ish, eleven months! That’s the only time that hap­pened. I don’t even know why.

Let it be said the actu­al pub­li­ca­tion of a new book can take a very long time. Though they seem slight, pic­ture books can take years to be pub­lished. My very first nov­el, No More Mag­ic was sched­uled to be pub­lished at a cer­tain date, only to be post­poned for a year. No rea­sons were giv­en, and I was too new to pub­lish­ing to have the temer­i­ty to ask why. It was, to be sure, a long wait.

There are many oth­er points in the pub­lish­ing process where wait­ing is the norm. Sub­mit a man­u­script to an edi­tor, and there can be a long time to wait before you get any response, yea or nay. 

A book can be accept­ed but there can be a long time to wait before a con­tract is drawn up. 

A book can be accept­ed, a con­tract is drawn up and signed, and still, an author can wait months before he/she receives edi­to­r­i­al notes. Indeed, the back and forth between edi­tor and writer, even as the process goes for­ward, almost inevitably can require much waiting.

In the years I have been pub­lish­ing, the wait­ing has become both more com­mon and extend­ed. Let it be said, some­times these wait times are explained, but just as often—in my experience—they are not. Over time the delays have noth­ing to do with the book but in the life of an all-to-human edi­tor. It may be because the edi­tor is over­worked. That’s become usu­al. Edi­tors can—and often are—working on a large num­ber of books—simultaneously. 

Some­times delays occur because the actu­al pub­lish­ing of a book takes place out­side the Unit­ed States. That is to say: sup­ply chain prob­lems. I seem to recall that dur­ing the past two years a ship sunk mid-ocean, a ship filled with new­ly pub­lished books. 

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic there were print­ing press log jams, the log being books.

Since we speak of wait­ing, it’s almost oblig­a­tory to have a bit from Samuel Beckett’s play, Wait­ing for Godot.

      Vladimir: Well? What do we do?

      Estragon: Don’t let’s do any­thing. It’s safer. 

Not, in my opin­ion, wise advice. Indeed, the advice I most often give to a new author who has just had a book (often a first) sub­mit­ted is, “Start anoth­er book.” And for those of us who have pub­lished and are wait­ing for what­ev­er, the advice is the same. 

Keep writ­ing.

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