Approximately 98.27% of the non-writing side of publishing is waiting. Just waiting. Interspersed, of course, with oh-crap-another-rejection, or holy-crackerjacks-an-acceptance!
Depending on how many stories you have out, the rate of either of those things can be anything from multiple times a day to once a month (or longer). If you’re me, and you write long short stories, and you haven’t written any new ones in a few months because you’ve been working on a novel and haven’t had much time, then…well, it’s slow.
Five stories out at the moment. The oldest submission just rounded the six month mark, the newest is closing on one month. It’s a little like hanging out by a campfire in the dark. Everyone said they’d be back soon, but it’s starting to feel like maybe they…forgot? Maybe they decided not to come back? Or maybe they’re just out of sight in the dark, taking notes on how you react as part of their paper on paranoia-inducing activities.
More than that, it’s just a touch boring. I’ve no real problem with waiting, as long as I know the story, or the response, wasn’t eaten by the email goblins. Which is why I love the little updates some markets send out. It’s great to hear something has cleared the slushpile, or is waiting on an editorial meeting, even if it comes with an “expect another four months wait” rider. It’s just the sound of a voice in the dark saying “Hey, we’re still coming, keep the campfire burning.”
The moon is beautiful tonight. It hangs just beyond the trees in the backyard, and I can watch it through the windows by my desk. Around the full moon everything changes here. The cats run back and forth through the house late at night, and the children sleep fitfully, and I…well, I dream of puppies.
But that’s another story entirely.
I’ve had two days now of no writing. It shows. I’m unable to relax when I don’t write. I pace, mentally, if not physically. My mind is with my characters, and I make them pace as well. We all languish, trapped in the equivalent of a break room in my head, a space with dingy walls, smelling of stale smoke and sweat, everyone sniping at one another.
There’s also this thing about writing novels, about the way they build and build until suddenly they have incredible forward momentum. To pause in the midst feels a bit like asking an avalanche to wait politely while you finish cooking dinner. Only in this case, you’re the only one disturbed by the avalanche. No one else understands why you’re jumpy and upset.
It will wait. It must wait. Tonight the moonlight will reflect off the snow and light the bedroom, and the cats will yowl and tussle, and the kids will talk in their sleep, and I will dream, not of puppies, but of a rocky coast and the cold ocean water and a girl swimming out into the dark.
Some stories tell themselves. “Ash and Dust” did. The most agonizing part of that whole experience was deciding where it should start. (I still like the original beginning, and I hope I have use for it some day, but it wasn’t right for that particular story.)
“Ash and Dust” probably came easily because I already knew Jaz and Bren. They’d been stuck in my rock tumbler of a brain for long enough, so when it came time to write, they were polished and ready to go. When a story goes that smoothly, it’s easy to assume all sorts of things. It’s easy, for example, to assume that stories that take more work are somehow lesser.
But the stories that get carried around for years before being told are going to be different then ones that haven’t had tincture of time. “Rainpocalypse” (it really does have a better name, I promise) took a handful of starts and one dead end before I understood where I needed it to go. Or rather, it took me that much writing before I understood the character at the heart of the story, and where she would go. Sometimes it works that way.
Sometimes, though, I catch a story too early. I have one I started in January. It’s set on a similar desolate Earth to “Ash and Dust,” and it’s a continuation of the question of who society leaves behind. Two sisters, a carpenter and a painter, and bicycles, and emptiness, and I thought I had it figured out. And then, when I was halfway through, something else popped into my head. One word, but it completely changed the path of the story.
I could have pushed forward on it, and if I hadn’t been working on Wren, I might have. I think that would have been a mistake. Instead, I’m letting it tumble for a while. At some point the unnecessary pieces will wear away. Then it will be time to tell it.