Thursday, August 28, 2008

Work in Progress: Playing the Waiting Game

I’ve been having a summer of waiting to see what will happen with the novel I finished revising in June. I’m terrible at waiting—I’m the most impatient person on earth—but in this case, there’s no alternative. So…I’ve waited for people to return from vacation and then waited for them to pay attention to my work amidst their piles of post-vacation crap. Then, I waited for more people to return from vacation and am still waiting for several of them. As I understand it, the publishing business pretty much shuts down in August, so this month has been excruciating—I can’t even comfort myself by envisioning someone reading my book because I know it’s simply plopped on a stack of other people’s books, waiting. Of course, once we hit the fall, there’s the Frankfurt book fair that keeps the publishing people busy, then there’s Thanksgiving and the holidays, when of course no one gets any work done. I guess there’s a brief window of actual work in mid-winter and early spring, and then it’s the big BEA book convention and we’re back to summer when no one is around to read manuscripts. I count about six weeks of actual time when someone might focus on a sweet little novel manuscript like mine.

Oh, just a joke, editor-types! I know you work hard for very little $$ and I love all of you dearly, especially any of you with a copy of my book on your stack of post-vacation crap to deal with!

Still…waiting is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been finding it hard to fully launch into a new novel, so this summer I’ve tried to distract myself from waiting with the following semi-productive activities:

1. Cleaning my office. Well, sort of. There was one point where I thought I might buy some (needed!) office furniture, but now I’m waiting on that too. I guess I’m waiting to see if my book sells for so much money that I can buy a mahogany desk or something, though I suppose that finery would actually be lost on me, since at the moment, my desk is an ANCIENT computer table I bought at a thrift store in the late 1980s. Seriously, this thing is so old that it has a cut-out hole where the stack of continuous paper was supposed to feed to the dot matrix printer. I’ve gotten my $10 worth, by golly!

2. Researching my new novel idea. That was a nice way to fill time until it started to feel like “filling time,” and I decided I should actually get busy with some WRITING and use some of this fabulous research. That panicked me, so no more research. After all, why become an expert on the year 1900 if I decide that idea’s not for me?

3. Writing things I don’t normally write. I tried writing a short, punchy, 750-word personal essay that expanded into 5000 words. Then I tried writing a 1500-word essay that expanded into 5000 words. Then I tried writing a 5000 word essay that came in at about 5000 words. So…I guess I know my essay-writing niche now.

4. Writing some humor pieces…because my life feels so hilarious and zany right now and I just love to laugh-laugh-laugh about it!

5. Freaking out at all these alien writing forms and retreating back to an old short story that I’ve been thinking about revising for oh, two years, and finally revising it. That actually felt good because I was able to cut out about five pages, bringing the story significantly closer to…you guessed it, 5000 words.

6. Deciding that as fun as it was to revise an old short story, I shouldn’t race out and revise ALL of them—so I started some new short stories. One I finished, and the other is in progress. Writing them was fun (though I’ll note that the one I finished was supposed to be 5 pages and ended up at 22), so clearly I miss the long form.

7. Which leads us here…I finally started writing what might be a first chapter of a new novel. We’ll have to see. But after all this time and all these projects and after becoming such an expert “waiter,” I’ll have to note that this is the first time this summer since packing up my other novel and sending it out into the world that I don’t feel anxiety-ridden and totally stressed out. Maybe it’s true: writing has to be—and actually is—its own reward.

This doesn’t mean I don’t jump every time the phone rings, fingers crossed for the sound of shriek-with-happiness-good-news!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.