There 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.