The Waiting Game

What to do while your book is with an editor

You have just sent your novel hurtling through the digital pipeline to your editor. What do you do now? You might be relieved to have a couple weeks’ respite from working on your book. But what if you want to be doing something with the creative energy that is now on hold while you wait to hear back from your editor?

Here are five ideas for using that time well:

1. Study your craft.

If you are waiting on a developmental or content edit, I’d recommend reading Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways to Look at a Novel. In 2000, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author found herself at a standstill in the middle of writing Good Faith. To get herself unstuck, she read one hundred novels and this book is the result. It is packed with fresh insights about how novels work, and how masters of the genre create worlds for readers to inhabit.

If you are waiting on a copy edit, get your inner editor primed by reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker, which I think is the best book on writing to appear in recent years. Pinker discusses the rules of good writing but also goes deeper, exploring the underlying principles of style and voice. “Writing is above all an act of pretense,” Pinker reminds us. “We have to visualize ourselves in some kind of conversation, or correspondence, or oration, or soliloquy, and put words into the mouth of the little avatar who represents us in this simulated world.”

2. Read novels outside your genre.

Reading almost anything with a writerly eye—which means paying attention to how plots and characters and individual sentences work—will improve your own writing. But you can learn the most by reading novels in unfamiliar genres because the specific tools and characteristics of that genre will stand out to you clearly. Read fantasy, for example, to learn how to create believable settings. Read romance for lessons on how to hold the reader’s attention when the ending is already known. Read thrillers for cues on how to build suspenseful plots. Read literary fiction for new tactics and techniques you can bring to your own writing. Read memoirs for lessons on how to build emotional intimacy with readers. 

3. Write without expectations.

You’ve been working long and hard on finishing your book. You’ve missed and met goals and deadlines. Do you remember what it feels like to write something just for fun? Take a stab at writing something completely new. Write a short story in another genre. Recast the opening of your novel as a screenplay. Share the experience of completing your novel in a blog post. See what happens when you channel your creativity into a piece for which you have zero expectations. You might stumble right into your next project.

4. Build or nurture your writing community.

If you aren’t part of a local or virtual writer’s group, now might be the time to join. Most communities will be able to offer advice on the next stages in your book’s journey—such as revision and marketing—and you have the time now to offer to read other people’s work. You can learn a great deal by being a beta reader, and you will have a dedicated group of people ready to return the favor when you need them, either for this project or for the next.

5. Work on your author platform.

It takes time to build a platform that will allow your readers to find you, so start now. Board by board, nail by nail, build something that feels authentic to you and your work. Create a website if you don’t have one. Interact more frequently on your social media channel of choice.