One of the biggest problems I have with writing is the waiting. Time moves so much more slowly in the publishing world than elsewhere. Examples – agents may take 6 weeks to one year to respond to a query letter; from signed contract to publication can take three years (this is especially true for picture books with illustrations).
Of course, there are always a few outliers – the rare agent or publisher who responds within 24 hours to kindly reject my work – and then there are those who never respond (also a typical practice in publishing) and you’re left in limbo wondering if you should follow-up or let it go.
To add to the tension of this waiting game I’m now playing, I recently attended a conference where I had six 1-1 sessions with different agents and editors. One editor requested the entire manuscript of my Top Dog of K-9 Academy middle grade book (did I mention I finished my second book – only took three months to write the 37,000 words of which I attribute a large part of my success to the outlining method from Libbie Hawker’s wonderful book Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing) and another editor was so enthusiastic, she gave me a list of agents to contact and she said I could use her name (too bad this editor works at a press that doesn’t acquire middle-grade fiction).
As a result, I’ve been checking my inbox at a more than neurotic rate. I haven’t formally documented what that amounts to on a daily basis, but between when I woke up at 5:30am (the first time, that is, then I fell back asleep only to have an incredibly vivid dream about a jaguar breaking into the house and fighting it off to protect the dogs), got out of bed at 6:30am, and began writing this at 11:30am, I have now checked my email nine times in six hours (and for 1.5 of those hours I attended my creative writing group where I did not want to be rude and look at my phone).
THIS. MUST. STOP.
Checking so much is not an efficient use of my time. Mounds of research suggests checking email like this severely impacts productivity. I already know this, yet I do it anyway.
So the question I’m now asking myself is why do I feel such a strong compulsion that I can’t seem to stop it?
Coincidentally, a possible answer came to me just a little bit ago when I took a break from writing this post to exercise (my latest goal is just 20 minutes a day of strength-training exercises; I’ll add in cardio when the weather gets warmer) and I started listening to The Great Courses – Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by Professor James Hynes.
I’m a big fan of The Great Courses and for those of you interested in learning about the publishing industry, I can’t recommend Jane Friedman’s How to Publish Your Book enough, which I have fully listened to twice now. I’ll let you know about Writing Great Fiction when I finish all twenty-four chapters.
Anyway, here’s what Professor Hynes said in chapter 1 – Starting the Writing Process:
Few things make a writer more anxious than facing a blank page. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner starting your first story ever or if you’re a battle-scarred professional with many publications behind you. Having to fill that blank space with words is almost always a very intimidating prospect. Like any worker faced with a difficult task, a writer can find all sorts of ways to allay that anxiety. These include petty rituals of procrastination, like, say, alphabetizing your bookshelf, experimenting with different fonts on your computer, or sharpening all your pencils to just the right length. Some writers go further, indulging in such self-destructive practices as using alcohol or drugs to numb their anxiety. And ever since the advent of the internet, there’s been a vast middle-ground between these two extremes now that a writer is able to kill almost all his writing time by checking his email, making wise cracks on twitter, or watching adorable kittens on YouTube and calling it research.
Well, duh. I can’t believe I didn’t see this. Now that I’ve finished my book, it’s time to start another one. And what better way to put that off then suddenly being offered a representation/publishing contract where I can then turn my attention and energy to something I’ve already done? Wouldn’t that be the easy way out! I wouldn’t have to think of an entirely new plot, then write it, then edit it and re-write again. I don’t have to contemplate disappointment and failure in my writing process and I can remain blissfully a person who successfully started and finished two books.
Except I don’t want to be a person who just wrote two books. I want to be a prolific writer, writing across different genres and getting successfully published in a variety of different ways.
So I guess it’s time curb my anxiety the best I can and come up with different, more productive ways (other than checking my email) to alleviate it. There’s the obvious of actually starting my next book and yesterday I did start the outline. I’ve also come up with creating new content for my blog, visualizing how I want to brand myself as an author, and always keeping a book with me, so if I start to feel compelled to check my email again I can read a few paragraphs (one of the single best ways to improve your own writing is to read others).
I’m optimistic these strategies can work and I’m open to suggestions for other ways I can re-direct my anxiety in a more productive way. Any ideas?
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I’ve been thinking about a starting a daily no-screen period, (i.e., a 2 or 3 continuous hours a day where I can do anything but use any electronic devices with screen). The idea is: blocking a substantial chunk of the day would naturally reduce the number of procrastinating actions everyday (for my case, FB, Tumblr, wikipedia surfing, checking my own blog views). Idea is still in the works, but will report on results. I’m also thinking about buying a typewriter…