A lot of this writing malarkey involves waiting. Specifically, waiting for replies to submissions. You’re waiting to hear if your stories have been accepted. You’re waiting to send the rejected ones on to the next stop on their journey to publication. Once a story is complete (or at least in its most polished draft to date), you send it out there… and then you wait. You wait for months, weeks if you’re lucky (days if you’ve submitted to the rare publications with lightning-fast turnaround). Most publications don’t want simultaneous submissions, so you can’t send the story to anyone else until they’ve rejected it.
If you let it, all that waiting can get mighty frustrating. You check your inbox several times a day. You check their submission guidelines to remind yourself how much longer you have to wait before you can query. Or… you find ways to occupy that time. The great thing about the submission waiting room is that it’s full of exciting possibilities to fill your time. No dog-eared, months-old magazines in this place. No pile of tired-looking toys in the corner. Here are my personal favourite options:
1. Write something new. There’s always a new writing project in the back of my mind, or a partly-completed one that needs some revision. I can start a new story, filled with all the potential of the ones I’ve submitted, except that the new ones are alive, growing, changing. Works in progress don’t yet have the satisfaction of completed ones, but they’re where all the fun lies. And writing is fun. We wouldn’t spend so much time in this damned waiting room if it wasn’t. I can also get polishing that piece that’s had a niggly plot point to sort out, or an annoying neglected detail I haven’t got round to rectifying. Either way, I’m creating something else whilst waiting for the fruits of my previous labours to ripen.
2. Submit more work. This is sort of part 2 of the first option. Once a story’s ready to fly the coop, I might as well set it free and see what happens. Waiting is more bearable when you’re waiting for lots of things to happen as opposed to just one or two. The odds of a reply in your inbox increase with every story you send out.
3. Research markets. There are so many potential markets out there. Brand new ones, full of enthusiasm. Old stalwarts that have been fonts of great storytelling for decades. Publications with unique angles that might be worth exploring. Places that publish the stuff you love reading and the genres you have yet to explore. Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store, looking at all these great magazines and websites offering a wealth of possible homes for my stories. Yeah, I know in the back of my mind that the likelihood of rejection always outweighs the likelihood of success, but at the research point, that’s irrelevant. I can forget all that and just enjoy the scent of possibility and the knowledge that there’s always another market to try when the previous one says ‘no, thanks’.
4. Read! Reading is my favourite pastime in any waiting room scenario, and this one’s no different. I prioritise writing, but I often remind myself that reading is almost as important. Reading far and wide exposes me to new writing styles and different ideas. I rarely read without a critical eye, but sometimes that’s half the enjoyment. I love being able to pinpoint exactly what I love about a certain book and dislike about another. For me, it’s not enough to say ‘I loved that’ or ‘I hated it’. If I can’t specify why I felt a certain way about a certain writer’s work, then I can’t apply it to my own writing. Reading is a learning process in that regard. Seeing how other writers construct a story helps me understand my own techniques and gives me inspiration to try new ones. Reading the stories that are getting published right now helps me figure out which direction to take mine. Plus, it’s reading. Reading is my favourite thing.
5. Do something else. Sometimes it’s just as important to take a break, forget about the story a publication’s had for months (does that mean they’re seriously considering it, or are they just really slow? Argh. Shut up, brain. Stop wondering about it), and think about something entirely different. Gaze into the well stocked, beautifully maintained aquarium in the waiting room (the fish are always thriving and happy here). Go for a walk. Smell the roses. Throw a ball for your dog. Cook a meal. Play a musical instrument. Watch some TV (but not too much). Knit a hat. Have coffee with a friend. Play Scrabble. Take a luxurious bath. This particular waiting room is full of options. They’re how you stay sane while waiting for that eventual nod of acceptance.