So, you’ve submitted your work to a publisher. Maybe it was a novel, or maybe a short story, but either way you’ve labored over the work for a period of time that you can’t take back. Now all you can do is wait. Waiting is the most unproductive thing a writer of any caliber can do; it is the non-advancement of any writing progress while one waits the days/weeks/months that it takes for a publisher to respond. While failing to advance in writing in any manner, a writer is opening herself to the possibility of getting worse, an unacceptable reality for those wanting to take the craft seriously. The writer must proceed in a way that enables growth and development post-writing-project.
A work of writing, no matter the genre, is a physical manifestation of creative and intellectual effort, and since it is a reflection of your effort there are lessons you can glean. This works in a similar vein as an athlete, say a basketball player, who exerts herself to shoot a freethrow. This athlete gains immediate feedback into if they’re shooting a perfect freethrow; that is, either they miss and adjust, or they sink the ball in and strive to maintain. In either scenario there is feedback in effort. Where, then, does a writer receive feedback in order to work on their craft? It is embedded within the process. Your feedback on what aspects of your writing to improve is alive and evolving as you write. In the instances where you might have had difficulties describing characters, or dealing with complex grammar, or in working on different ways to connect scenes together, all of these are the immediate feedback from your writing effort. Knowing this, how do you improve your writing while waiting for a publisher response?
Take a Damn Break
I get it, I said earlier that waiting was counter-productive as a writer and yet I’m advising the reader to take a break from writing. I’ll explain. The first matter that taking a break resolves is the ego that you inscribe within the work. As we write, we become close to our art, and, for whatever period of time we deal with it, the artwork becomes a part of our lives. In this process of becoming a part of ourselves, we defend the art work as if we were defending our own ego, as if a critique on our writing were a critique on our selves when in reality it is only a reflection of our craft and effort at the time we released the artwork into the wild. Taking a break from writing gives you distance from the work and helps to eradicate ego from the work.
What is the point of this separation from our previous work? If a writer is to evaluate their process on a worked they completed, it would not be objective to do so with the ego still attached. The writer would be much more able to glance off of small errors to the point where they might not even notice them at all. The point is to evaluate the process of your writing, what went well, what went badly, what needs improvement, and the like this must be done objectively, without ego.
How to Evaluate Your Process
This period is for reflecting. If you keep a process journal, as Louise DeSalvo recommends in The Art of Slow Writing, then you’ll be much better prepared for the task at hand. The point of reflecting on your work is to rediscover the points of your writing that you struggled with. I’ve just finished a short story about the dualities that humankind is faced called “Almost Everything”, and in it I found myself struggling with my more complex sentences. I knew, through writing this work, and understanding the influence Gabriel Garcia Marquez plays in my work in general, that I needed to add detail and implement higher-order sentences into my fiction. I understood that this particular work needed complex sentences but I struggled to deliver those in a way that satisfied me. Through this struggle I’ve come to the realization that I need to practice. A simple observation, yes, but knowing what to practice, and then actually practicing it is exactly how you get better as a writer.
So, what I’m suggesting to you is to find what took you longer than average to work though, be it characterizations, plotting stories, etc., and purposefully finding to practice those things. By targeting those weak areas in practice, you are partaking in what is called “deliberate practice” and it is the first step on the way to the mastery of our craft.
Waiting for a publisher’s response can be an unproductive time or it can be one of great learning and growth. The difference is how you, as a writer, decide to invest your effort. You can spend your effort relaxing to an excess amount of time, anxious as to when you’ll get a response from X publisher, or you can get back into the trenches and evaluate your work so that when you are ready to write your next work you are that much more prepared to handle what it will require from you. The difference between the waiting writer and the evaluating writer, is that of quality. The quality of a waiting writer stays more-or-less stagnant; the evaluating writer continually blossoms.