Why We Hate the Wait
I recently read a post on Psych Central by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project. The post was called 8 Reasons Why Waiting in Lines Drives Us Crazy and it referenced an article called The Psychology of Waiting Lines by David H. Maister.
Maister’s article is aimed at the service industry and why people despise waiting in lines. I decided to read it because it sounded interesting. I discovered that a lot of it would translate into something to help us all be Happy Writers — a little insight into why we hate the wait.
Feeling anxious makes the wait seem longer
The more worried we are about whether this manuscript is going to be “the One,” the longer the wait will seem. I’ve actually heard writers who had been waiting for a while say that they’d just rather get the rejection than to have to keep waiting…because then at least they’d know.
We also worry that we’ve chosen the “wrong line.” Maybe we should have queried a different agent, submitted to a different editor/publisher. Maybe we should have submitted a different book.
The more anxious we feel about any part of the process, the longer the wait is going to seem.
It’s harder to wait when you don’t know how long it will take
Knowing that you’ll have an answer in X amount of time relieves an enormous amount of tension, doesn’t it? It’s easier to wait for anything – in line at the bank or grocery store or in the physician’s office, if you know how long the wait will be. But the minute the time frame ceases to be finite, we become antsy. Because for all we know the wait could be forever.
The wait seems worse when you don’t know why it’s taking so long
Have you ever waited “too long” at a doctor’s office and gone to the receptionist to ask, “Why is it taking so long?” If she gives you an answer — such as that there was an emergency or another patient was needing more care than expected — you’re likely to go back to waiting at least a little more patiently than when you didn’t have a reason. The facts didn’t change, the wait didn’t change, but now you have an explanation, which makes it a bit easier to take.
Works the same with the submission process. We torture ourselves with wait times by needing to know WHY it’s taking so long.
The main worry when a submission seems to taking forever to garner a reply is that we’ve been forgotten. As the wait time for that acceptance or rejection increases, we begin to wonder if we shouldn’t ping the agent to make sure they got our submission. Or write the editor and subtly ask, yet again, how long they usually take to reply (even though it’s posted on their website). This tactic is really just a plea to be told we haven’t been forgotten. The minute they say, “Yes, I have it. Give me three more weeks,” we relax again…even if it takes longer than 3 weeks. Because we know now that we haven’t been forgotten.
Further speculation about how long it’s taking can take the form of wondering if the editor who claimed to love your manuscript is now fighting impotently against a committee of naysayers, who will ultimately reject you, or if the agent you clicked with at the conference is taking so long because she wants to let you down easy and can’t figure out how to do it.
Knowing why the wait is what it is helps, but doesn’t happen often in this business. The speculating just makes you crazy, so stop.
If you feel the wait time is unfair, you’re going to be more unhappy
Why should you have to wait five years to be published when So-and-So only had to wait three? Why was Author X an “overnight success” while you’re still waiting for your big break. Why was it so easy for every one of your critique partners to get an agent, while you’re still banging on doors?
No matter how long or short the wait is, it’s going to seem less fair if someone else got there ahead of you. There often doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason for it either. Maybe you feel you work harder than Author X does, but she achieved the success you’re working toward so much quicker. It’s like she cut in line in front of you.
The thing is, there is no line. There’s no such thing as “first in, first out” in the marathon of publishing. There’s just one great big pile of writers at the starting line, racing toward publication. Those who pull out ahead faster might not be the ones who reach publication first. In fact, some latecomers to the race may even beat all of you who started together. It’s not about fairness, it’s about perseverance.
If you’re occupied during the waiting time, it’s going to go faster
A big mistake writers make is not moving forward. While they are waiting for news from a prospective agent or editor. While they’re waiting to see if their contract is going to be renewed to decide which book to work on next. While they’re waiting to see if that final in a contest turns into a win. The mistake in this situation is not remaining occupied. The more idle you are, the longer the wait will seem and the more unhappy you will be if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to.
The more valuable the end result to you, the longer you’re willing to wait
If you were told unequivocally that it would take you 15 years of writing and then you would be guaranteed to be a published author…would you still go for it? If it means enough to you, of course you would.
On the other hand, many writers give up after only a year or two — or before they’ve half started — because it just doesn’t have the meaning to them as it does to the rest of us and they aren’t willing to wait.
Waiting by yourself seems to take longer than waiting with company
Ever been to a writers’ conference? Do you have a critique group or support group online? Have you ever stood in very long line at the post office to mail off a manuscript and found yourself becoming best buddies with the guy behind you, because one or the other of you starts commiserating about how long you’ve been standing there?
With company, with people who are also waiting, your wait doesn’t seem so painful. If you never came into contact with anyone else in the same seemingly interminable queue you’re in, the wait would seem longer.
With support, you can help each other take your minds off how long it’s taking and work out strategies for moving forward while you wait. If you pass at least some of the time talking about writing and sharing experiences, time will seem to go faster.
Hopefully, knowing a little bit about why you hate waiting will help you be a little more patient. The most important thing, I think, is to keep occupied while you wait. Keep writing. Don’t stop production to wait and see what happens.
While you’re busily creating your potential future backlist, the wait time will go by faster, you’ll be creating good writing habits, and you’ll be more likely to retain a positive attitude no matter what the outcome.