Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Writers are waiters, sometimes literally. We work in restaurants for minimum wage and tips to support our writing “habits.” But even if we aren’t asking if someone wants to hear the day’s specials, or order a cocktail before dinner, we are always, always, living in the act of waiting.

We wait for inspiration. We wait for time to write. We wait for the right word to come, the one sitting on the tip of our tongue, just out of reach. If we’re lucky, we wait for royalty checks and contracts and brilliant, critical reviews.

But mostly, we wait for the call, the email, or the smoke signal, which validates us as professional writers. We wait for the “yes.”

The outside world knows little about the production and publication process. As a playwright, I’m often amused by the question “but why don’t you just get X theater company to produce your play?”

I know it’s a question asked with the best of intentions. But my first thought is always, GEE, I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT. Despite being a working playwright for almost twenty years, asking a theater company for a production never crossed my mind! And while I’m at it, I’m going to call up Random House and ask why they turned down my novel. After all, it’s not like they don’t have thousands of submissions for the miniscule amount of slots they have available for publishing a new author, I should have just ASKED NICER.

But once I get past my initial, knee-jerk reactions, I think about the nature of how being a writer is a career of waiting. Here’s the truth of it, from my perspective. We send out our manuscripts: plays to theaters, novels to agents and publishers, screenplays to agents and production companies. And then we wait. That’s about all we can do unless we self-publish or self-produce.

There is a process in place to work in “traditional” modes, and that requires incredible patience on the part of the writer. And one of the reasons I don’t talk about where I’ve submitted material to “outsiders” – is because I know I may wait a year or more to get a “yes,” and I don’t want to be asked, constantly, “so have you heard back from… fill in the blank.” It feels like too much failure to constantly say, “Not yet, I’m still waiting.”

One thing I think “new” writers should be better prepared for, in the workshops, the self-help guidebooks to writing your first novel, the classes, the writers groups, is how to deal with the waiting. It’s different than dealing with rejection. Rejection is something we can understand. The “no” is the point at which you can cross the name off the list and move on. The waiting is a no-man’s land of anticipation, especially when it’s for a place that requires you don’t submit elsewhere until you hear back from them one way or the other.

So what’s a writer to do?

Write, I say, write.

With so little in our control over the “yes” – we must move forward on the one thing we can control, our next project. I find it satisfying to send things out and know that whatever I’m working on now is better than whatever I’ve submitted before, to know that I continue to hone my craft and improve my work. That no matter what happens in the future, it will all be worth the wait.


  1. It's kind of sad, in a way, that waiting has effectively been removed from the fiction writing process. Too many new writers don't see the point in it when they can publish instantly through Kindle.

    Since they never have to deal with rejection, they also never have to deal with criticism and refinement. :/

  2. I agree. There are a lot of positives about waiting as a writer, within the writing process itself. Check back next week for my next post on that aspect.