Monday, July 21, 2014

The hardest part of publishing is waiting.

Patty here

I just finished writing my fifth novel. Now that it’s done, I’m faced with the most difficult phase of publishing (at least for me)—waiting.

Everybody faces this dilemma at one time or another. Writers are no exception. We wait while trusted readers pour through the pages of our manuscripts, looking for continuity errors, overwriting and plot holes. We wait for agents to answer our query letters. We wait while editors read our manuscripts and decide if they will purchase our books. If we’re lucky, we wait for pub dates and reviews. So, what should a writer do to pass the time, other than to celebrate making it to the finish line?


“Start writing the next book” is the advice most commonly given. We are told if we wait for the phone to ring we may not be a real writer. We may be a person who wants to be published and earn buckets of money, fame or whatever. They caution: What if we get a two-book deal with the second one due in twelve months or six month? While we do edits and promotion plans for the first book, we’ll fall behind schedule to finish the second. There is also some pressure to love writing. Not all writers do. Putting words on the page is torture for me. The test of a real writer is that regardless of the downsides, he or she just can't stop doing it.
"I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all."  —E.B. White
Waiting can destroy your spirit, so I try to avoid it. For me, writing isn’t only putting words on the page. It’s thinking about what I want to write next. It’s also about “filling the well” of experiences that I’ve lost while sitting for hours and days at my computer creating a story that I hope somebody will want to read. Filling the well requires me to go back into the world and see what’s out there. Here are a few ways I find inspiration:

Research trips. I ask myself what interests me; what geographical area have I always wanted to know more about? Maybe I can’t afford a trip to Katmandu but I can trek to a local museum or library. I’m fascinated by genealogy and have always wanted to write a story about family research gone sideways. Fortunately, I’m just a few miles from the LDS family library, where I’ve spent many hours looking into my own family history. I've taken classes there before. Maybe it's time to sign up for another one.


Public transportation. For me, character is king. I spend a good deal of time developing mine. One of my favorite sources of inspiration is to take the city bus and people watch. I take notes describing behaviors, hand gestures and facial ticks, knowing one day I will use them to build my characters. A description in my first novel came from a note I’d jotted on a paper napkin, describing a woman who walked past the window of the restaurant where I was eating.

Explore Settings: Places always inspire me to write because they spark sensory images. Let’s say you stroll by a dark, trash-strewn alley and think it’s the perfect place to dump a body (if you’re writing a crime novel). Pause. Use all your senses to describe the place: sights, sounds, smells, tastes and the even the feel of grime on the brick walls. Take photographs. Note how your body reacts to the scene. Does your heart pound? Does your jaw tingle? Describing emotions is difficult for me. I have to work at making them real. Visiting dark alleys gives me an opportunity to experience those feelings firsthand.


Newspaper articles: I keep a file of old newspaper clippings. I reread them periodically, hoping one of them will inspire a great story. I recently came across an article about the role of elephants during WWII. That struck a cord. I also love stories about old, unsolved crimes. 

My point is that once I finish a book and find myself in the waiting mode, I don’t feel as if I’m a failed writer if I don’t immediately put more words on the page. Thinking is writing, too, as is research and riding the city bus. I hope this fifth book finds a publisher. I think it will. If not, it was a book I needed to write. It was cathartic for me. Now, all I have to figure out is what’s next.

Happy Monday!

22 comments:

  1. James O. Born7/21/2014 8:16 AM

    perfectly said, Patty. Writing involves putting a great deal of thought into each page.

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    1. I've always admired your dedication to writing, James O. You inspire me.

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  2. Wonderful suggestions, Patty, and wonderful attitude!
    Sandy

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    1. Thanks, Sandy. I love this quote: "Attitude is everything. Pick a good one."

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  3. Excellent ideas, Patty. I have to periodically take a break from writing and "fill the well." I love visiting museums, not so much as to get ideas but to feel inspired by the creativity. When I'm not writing I like to catch up on fun reading and watching movies/TV. Just spending time petting the cats. Play time (not doing anything "productive") is an essential part of restoring creativity.

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    1. Those are all important endeavors, Sally. In my down time I have a weakness for HGTV house reno shows, which some people call "real estate porn." Har har.

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  4. I agree with both you and Sally. It's important to find ways to not only recharge, but to fill the well. When I first started writing full time, I plowed on ahead with ideas that had been marinating in my mind. Within months, I realized the general day to day chaos that had surrounded me was gone, and with it so were the triggers that I spun off into stories. Now I have to create a balance of writing time and exposure-to-the-world time.

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    1. Good point, Diane. Striking that balance is a challenge. We think that quitting a job or volunteer gig will give us free time to write. But sometimes those experiences are the fodder for our stories.

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  5. Once I finish a project I try to treat myself to some of those things I had to put off, "When you're finishing writing, you can spend a whole day at the beach - Yeay!" Something else I do, I treat myself to a lot of daydreaming. Batting around ideas in my head is easy and fun. It's the next step that is hard! I don't like to become too involved in the next project as I know I'll be getting feedback about the WIP and that will once again require my full attention. But now those daydreams are now percolating in the back of my brain.

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    1. I've often wondered how people who write multiple series handle switching back and forth between books. You have to be really really organized, methinks.

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  6. My first two beta readers currently have my latest in my series and it's a much needed break from living with these characters 24 hours a day. I know the few weeks away from DYING FOR A DUDE will help stimulate my mind so when the book is returned with their comments, I'll have plenty of my own to add which will enhance the editing process. Thanks for these well thought out tips, Patty. I'm one of your biggest fans so I know your book will be great!

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    1. The feeling is mutual, Cindy. It's so important to have beta readers who will give you an honest critique but also point out the good parts, too. I always do a few palm-to-forehead slaps after reading my manuscript after a hiatus. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  7. Great posting Patty. As an indie author, I am in a slightly different boat. Handling everything yourself, there is always something to do or follow up on. The only people you wait on is the copy editor and the formatter. Mostly though, I start getting excited about writing the next book.

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    1. And the book cover artist...

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  8. Your post makes me think about the question: "Do you like writing or having written?" With me, it's sometimes the former; sometimes the latter, and sometimes neither one!

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  9. Paul, I remember you asking me that question years ago, and I agree with your assessment.

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  10. We find inspiration everywhere. Speaking of genealogy, is Smiley your real name? I think of Le Carre's Smiley character. You are the first real person I know of named Smiley.

    Look forward to reading your book.

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    1. Yup, my real name is Smiley. In fact, my father's name was George Smiley. I once asked him if he had ever been a British spy but he didn't answer, only smiled.

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    2. Hilarious! When browsing books, I noticed your book because of the name Smiley.

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    3. Check out Jane Smiley, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, which was made into a movie. We're everywhere :)

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  11. Great column, Patty. The ideas were helpful. Good luck with publication of your book.

    ~Teresa

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