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.
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:"I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all." —E.B. White
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.