The Wait

One of the hardest parts about being a writer is The Wait. It comes in many forms. Waiting for inspiration to strike. Waiting for a critique partner to return a chapter with his or her thoughts. Waiting for a response to your queries. Waiting for a publishing house to sign you. Wait. Wait. Wait. And when you think the waiting is over and done with, there’s still the wait for your book to launch. The wait involved in seeing if you--by some miracle--made it to the New York Times Best Seller’s List. All of that waiting can drive anyone this side of Nutsville. Even the most patient of persons has his or her limits. Well, maybe not Mother Teresa. 

Are you familiar with the Marshmallow Test? Scientists sit a kid at a table with a marshmallow on a plate. Said scientist tells the kid that if he or she can wait for five minutes without eating the marshmallow then he or she would be given a second marshmallow as a reward for waiting. Most kids end up eating the marshmallow. It’s the pleasure principle. We find ourselves needing to satisfy a need instead of delaying the gratification even if we know we’ll have twice the initial prize in the end.

I find myself playing the part of the kid, staring at that marshmallow. I’m so close to it that I can smell its sugary-air goodness. All I need to do is reach for it. The act would take a matter of seconds and the marshmallow would be mine. But at the back of my mind, a small voice is saying, “Wait for it. Wait for it,” like someone giving the signal to attack. It’s excruciating torture, being in a limbo-like state where you find yourself half certain and half uncertain. You wake up thinking: is this really happening?

How patient do you have to be as a writer? I’d say a hellovalot. I normally think of myself as a patient person, much to the chagrin of those who really know me. Sometimes I think, do I have what it takes to wait some more? Can I actually survive not knowing what I have to do next? Where is this all going? Will I achieve what I set out to do? Should have I stayed in that dead end job? These are some of the debilitating questions that make waiting painful. Like a professional torturer’s knife going in. It slips through just enough to hurt you, but not enough to kill you.

No one prepares you for The Wait. No one says, “Make sure you're patient enough,” when you tell them that you want to be a writer. Not that many writers talk about all those years of writing and getting out there. Sometimes, it’s mentioned in passing. But, really, it’s the hardest part. Look at Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why. He’d been writing for twelve years and was close to giving up before 13 Reasons Why made him an author to remember. Now, his novel is rubbing elbows with the likes of thought provoking texts like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Giver—you know, the classics that will one day be taught in school, or at least, discussed in length. Today, it’s the success or the story of the book that’s talked about, but what about those twelve years of waiting? Sometimes, when something amazing happens, we forget about all the time we spent waiting for that amazing thing.

I honestly don’t have a clear idea as to where this post is going. I just wanted to share the experience of The Wait with you, dear reader. What keeps me from going off the deep end? Writing the next book. Reading, a lot. Keeping myself busy, thinking of other things besides the fact that what I’m really doing is waiting. It’s crazy, I know. But it’s something that we all go through, especially when you’re a writer.   


  1. That's so true...
    Oh God, when i read this Kate, i'm like 'ok, so here people wait, too'...
    It's hard to be a writer: you beg for critics sort of and you wait, wait, wait.

    My deepest respect to all the fellow writers out there!:)

  2. Oh, the "Waiting Game", now if that doesn't sound familiar! I guess it all comes down to patience and perseverance that keeps us writers going. That said, will ya hand me that marshmallow?

  3. I suppose my main problem with the marshmallow experiment example is that they give the kids nothing to do but sit in the room with the marshmallow. Given the national average attention span in most first-world countries, I wouldn't think *anyone*, kid or adult, could sit in a room with a marshmallow and not eat it for five minutes*. The trick is to wait, but to do other things while waiting. Granted, you'll still want to check with people every other second, but doing other things can help relax you and help you concentrate on other things.

    *Also, anyone who said it wasn't the same at their age has suffered severe lapses in memory. Everyone always says kids today are the problem. It's a form of future shock. We just want what we want now instead of later, and then we slowly grow out of that want.

  4. Birgit, you had me on the floor laughing with that one. *Hands you virtual marshmallow*

    Caius, I totally agree. But even if you try to do other things, the moment you stop for a second, you start thinking about all that waiting again. Sigh.

  5. I can so relate to this blog, I have just gone through my first round of waiting, ended successfully mind you but now I'm a literally on a countdown until the start of next month for the book to be released and it exquisite torture. Then I have to count down until July for the next lot to come out. With all this waiting you think my hair would end up turning gray...oh wait it already is!
    So I fill in my time writing more stories and looking after my blogs but then that gets me thinking about other peoples books and oh damn it now I'm thinking about how there is only 20 days left...*heads off and tries to count rain drops instead*

  6. Great article. One I need right now. My agent is Donald Maass and he's been shopping a murder mystery of mine for 2 years. He still feels positive but it's hard to believe it will actually be published.

  7. It's posts like these from you that I prize highly as reminders.

    If the waiting gets too crazy though, hon, you know where to find me. Let's plan that lunch. We can keep each other from going nuts <3

  8. I really do agree waiting is not good, I really think I'm pretty patient myself and there really is no end of the waiting. I truly think no one can really get the waiting till its them. I for one knew the waiting, but I still didn't get my head competely wrapped around the idea. Waiting does not bring out the best in us...

  9. Hello Kate,

    Your post reminded me of a poem I wrote some time ago. We must be a conglomeration of masochistic optimists. Anyway, here it is. Hope you enjoy. G. Thomas Gill

    Oh, to be an Author

    I thought the sweaty palms were bad
    Until the butterflies went mad
    And raced their engines in the pit
    Of my ample stomach, then they quit.

    I hoped they weren’t gone for good
    For I, that moment, understood
    The ups and downs, excitement, nerves,
    Of fast rides through slow endless curves
    Were all a part of what it takes
    To be an author, goodness sakes.

    The letter held with aching hope
    Was from an agent. The envelope
    Contained the answer that I sought,
    But alas, I found that it was not.

    “Your work is fine but not for me,
    I suggest you seek an agency
    That can deliver what you seek
    Just stay away from me, you freak.”

    I stood there in the setting sun,
    And thought about my work undone.
    More novels, poems, and stories rage
    To be born upon a printed page.
    Tomorrow brings the mail once more
    With a better batch of news, I’m sure.

  10. Hello Kate, you posted a great truth. The publishing industry moves slowly, measured in months, not days. And each milestone is followed by the next, so to climb one mountain is to find there is another, larger cliff to scale.

  11. And this, Miss Evangelista, is why I enjoy having a large library of computer games, even if it does keep me from following up some of my novel ideas.

  12. I'm so not patient, Kate. When I want something, I will do whatever I have to in order to get it now. I know I should be more patient especially when I'm preaching it to my 4yr old. I'll work on it, just be patient with me :)

  13. I've learned to not focus on the waiting because, like the kid waiting for 5 minutes (which seems like 5 days to a kid) intensifies the anxiety. I focus my attention elsewhere knowing that what I'm waiting for will eventually happen ... and if it doesn't, then I move on to something else. Sometimes I lose my way with a story or a longer document like a novel (which recently happened). If I put it aside for a bit, what I'm waiting for appears. But getting to whee I'm at has taken years of practice. And I'm still impatient to "get the job done" Life: 'Tis a waiting / doing thing.

  14. I love this post! It really had me smiling:-)
    Good one Kate!

  15. Kate,
    Hi! Waiting. I am NOT a big fan for waiting, either! I start thinking about it and try to think how "I" would solve the problem, how "I" would speed things up and then I realize I can't do anything about it, which drives me even crazier! Here is an idea: Can you take a small, short trip, even if it is close to home? Maybe over to the next county or two away, to a B&B possibly? In the county north of us, it is in the thumb of Michigan. We live in Port Huron. Think of Michigan as a 'mitten'. Hold your left hand up. We live on the first knuckle on the outside of the hand. The St Clair River runs up the side of the hand and at that knuckle it opens up to Lake Huron. When the wind blows just right in the Winter, we get SLAMMED with snow! Quick story here: I was 'freshly' divorced and it was only early November. We got a FOOT of snow overnight one day! My ex lived 2 cities south of me. He had NO snow. I called him to let him know I could NOT get the kids to school, as I did not own a snow shovel yet. It was to early in the season yet! I had at least one month yet! He yelled and swore at me saying I was full of xxxx! He got to our rental house, FINALLY believing me! Such a nice guy - he shoveled a walk-way for himself, left ALL the rest for me! Didn't even give the kids a thought! I didn't even have their Winter gear out yet! We have been getting a LOT of lake effect snow this year! It is amazing to me how that happens! If we drive north of where we live, everything is then on the lake. There are some beautiful B&B's right on the water. One day I would like to go and stay at one, and shop the next day at all the giftshops that are there that close so early in the day that we always miss getting to shop at! Somehow whenever we drive up that way, we ALWAYS miss the stores being open! I don't know how they stay in business? Anyway, I was thinking something like that 'could' possibly help change your mind? It would definitely help, if you like things like that? May I suggest to NOT take marshmallows with you so you are not reminded about the 'dreaded word'! I know there will still be the waiting time even when you get back, but, you can focus back on the memories of your small trip when the 'waiting' moments hit. Important: Make SURE to buy yourself something to remember the trip by. Something beautiful so when the 'waiting' moments hit, you can look at what you bought and remember the feeling of content from your trip! I am thinking of something that hangs, like something in a stained glass look. A beautiful, intricate windchime you will want to hang 'only' in your house because it is so beautiful and delicate. Do it a second time, if needed! Anything you can do to help change your mind during this time of discontent!
    Good luck, and I admire the way you are handling the waiting! As always, I wish you the BEST!!!
    I don't remember who said this quote, but it is "good thing come to those who wait"!
    It WILL come!

  16. Okay,maybe you've gone from the "wanna be" zone (you want to be a writer someday once you get around to writing...) to the "gonna be" zone (you've done the hard work, written the frackin' manuscript and it's going to happen, you're gonna be a published author soon...).

    It's just a quirk of this crazy existence of ours, but the "gonna be" zone is way more agonizing than the "wanna be" zone.

    Does that make any sense?

  17. This is an amazing post. It is so true. I'm waiting now for my juices to flow on my novel and it just seems like forever, like I'm stuck in limbo. I guess I should just put something down, even if it's jiberish. Maybe that will kick-start my creative muse.

    Thanks for this.


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