Writers, Are You Willing to Play the Waiting Game?

by | Nov 20, 2015

By C. S. Lakin (@LiveWriteThrive)

“Will you stop standing around talking? I have things to do, and I want to order my food.”

“I’m in a hurry; No, I’m not willing to wait.”

“What do you mean you’re putting me on hold?” Click!

Is it just me, or have times changed? Drivers, pumped up on “Hatorade” at five in the morning, too impatient to wait for the light to change, race into oncoming traffic to speed through a red light. People storming into Starbucks for their espresso see a line halfway to the door, throw up their hands, and storm off (no wonder Starbucks now provides a way for you to order through their app so you don’t have to wait the long four minutes for your drink).

What about you? How long—really—are you willing to wait for that page to load on your computer at the diner that has sucky Internet? Like me, you might pack it up and drive across town to find a better connection. Even if it takes you thirty minutes.

Because you don’t have time to waste. And you’re not willing to wait. For practically anything.

What about your writing career? Does this modern mind-set of impatience seep into your attitude? It can, and if it does, it could be disastrous.

Back in the Day …

Patience is a Virtue. Or so they say. Or said. Way back then. Seems that patience has gone out the window along with honor, honesty, and 8-track cassettes.

Is there no place in our fast-paced fast-food culture for a writer to adopt a patient mind-set? Today’s ease of publishing caters to this ubiquitous attitude of hurry, fast, no wait, no problem.

But it can pose a problem. We forget that sometimes good things are worth waiting for. And that is wholly true when it comes to writing, editing, polishing, and publishing a terrific book.

Gotta Put in the Hours—No Way around It

Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller, Outliers, got me thinking about the process of rough draft to book publication. Gladwell says experts agree on the amount of time needed for a person to become an expert in his field. He cites examples—such as Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer, The Beatles—as some who put in the requisite hours.

To become proficient in any field, these experts say, you need to put in 10,000 hours—which equates to a lot of years of diligent effort. There are no shortcuts or get-smart-quick ways about it. Unless you’re a prodigy or Mensa genius, you are going to have to become an expert the old-fashioned way—by hard work and persistence.

Ugh, you say. I want it all now—success, recognition, fulfillment.

“But Writing Is Different!”

As a copyeditor and writing coach, I see lots of mediocre manuscripts lacking in brilliance, or poorly structured and edited. While some of this may be due to lack of talent, much has to do with this impatient mind-set I’m talking about.

Often writers figure all they need do is write and—voila! a masterpiece.

Funny how writing seems to fall into its own special category. If I decided to be a brain surgeon, people would think me nuts to walk into a hospital, state I had read a few medical books and watched a YouTube video on surgery procedures, and ask for a scalpel to operate on the patient on the table.

No doubt I would quickly be carted off by force and removed as far from that hospital as possible. I might even find myself in a nifty jacket that ties in the back, where my eager hands can’t reach the knots.

Reasonable people expect aspiring surgeons to put in the requisite hours of study, residency, and supervised training to work up to being the capable doctor they hope to be. This is the same across professions—whether one hopes to practice law, build a skyscraper, or even drive a school bus full of squirrelly children. Sure, learning to drive a bus might not require ten thousand hours, but writing isn’t as easy as to master as driving.

Ten thousand hours? That’s about twenty hours a week for ten years of practicing and honing your craft. Are you willing to put in that kind of time commitment?

“What’s Taking So Long?”

Sometimes writers lament that they haven’t been able to sell their first manuscript after a year of querying agents. Maybe even after five years they ask, “Why is getting published next to impossible?”—then throw in the towel, overwhelmed with feelings of failure.

They might slave over writing their book and hurry to self-publish, only to face negative reviews and poor sales. Their excuse? “I don’t have time to edit my book or master grammar rules. I don’t have time to research book designers or learn how to successfully market and promote. I just don’t have time!”

Maybe the goal seems impossible to reach because they haven’t yet put in their ten thousand hours. They’re not patient. They’re not willing to wait.

But there’s an “upside” to waiting. Maturity that comes with age, and our writing matures as well. Aside from the refinement and tightening that comes from endless hours of actual writing, we gain a deeper insight from life experience. We can share things from a deeper place in our hearts because we have already walked a long road in life full of experiences, both joyful and tragic.

What to Do during Those 10,000 Hours

It’s easy to see how practicing a musical instrument for thousands of hours will help you become a proficient performer, but how does this equate in terms of writing? Do we just sit down and write—anything, everything—and once we get to 10,000 hours we will find we are experts in our craft?

It’s not quite that simple. Writers wield words, concepts, abstractions, metaphors. You might compare a writer studying and mastering the construct of language in the way a musician might master her scales and arpeggios. Over time, the study of grammar, spelling, and punctuation will help a writer be proficient with the English (or other) language, and that’s very important.

But 10,000 hours spent learning just those things does not a writer make. It can produce a great English comp teacher or copyeditor. But an author? That requires a little more than just learning how to put together a proper sentence and know where a comma goes.

Authors need to have an assortment of various tools to use in their craft, and a lot of things can influence and aid in gathering those tools over the years. Here’s a partial list:

  1. Study books on writing craft. Don’t just read them but put into practice the things read as you write.
  2. Attend writers’ conferences and take workshops. Take notes and practice the things you learn there.
  3. Focus on one or two weak areas in your writing. Athletes will spend 80 percent of their time working on the 10 percent that they’re weak in. For example, if you’re not a great plotter, spend a lot of time studying how to construct strong plots and apply what you learn. If your characters are weak, study books on how to create great characters, then put these tips into practice.
  4. Get a critique partner or join a critique group. Regularly have others give you constructive feedback on your writing and listen humbly and openly to their advice. You don’t have to accept everything everyone says, but pay attention to the points that make sense to you and work to improve what needs improvement.
  5. At some point seriously consider hiring a copyeditor/writing coach who can professionally evaluate your work, tear it apart, and help you determine your strengths and weaknesses. For more information on how to choose an editor, what to expect from a critique, and what elements are considered in a critique, take a look at Critique My Manuscript. Then research and find an editor you feel will really help you.

Think about the Journey—Not the Destination

A few—very few—writers find “success” in publication after only a year or two of starting their journey as a writer, but that’s not the norm. Sure, there are factors of timing, accessibility to conferences, personality, the genre you write in juxtaposed to the market needs. All these things can have a bearing on your “success.”

But rather than focus on the “success” part, focus on the “expert” part. Focus on the journey and enjoy the ride instead of impatiently rushing to get to your destination.

Resist the spirit of “hurry,” and adopt that old-fashioned concept of patience. It is a virtue. Still.

If you’re willing to play the waiting game and put in those hours, it will serve you well in the long run. You’ll create books you’ll be proud of and ones readers love. And isn’t that worth waiting for?

C S Lakin headshot x125C. S. Lakin is the author of sixteen novels and six writing craft books. Her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive gives tips and writing instruction for both fiction and nonfiction writers, and her Writer’s Toolbox series gives fiction writers everything they need to know to create compelling, solid stories.

The newest release—5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing—is available here and features more than sixty detailed Before and After examples of flawed and corrected passages to help authors learn to spot flaws in their writing.

You can check out all her books on her Amazon Author Page.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Ebook Writers

    As a professional eBook writer, I am pretty much okay with the wait and patience it takes to write an eBook. It’s the wait afterwards that is very difficult. Selecting the right online publishers, getting the eBook published, checking and rechecking it, fixing any flaws etc. takes time and plenty of energy. But nothing beats waiting for the eBook to take off, if it ever does!
    Thanks for an awesome blog though. I believe that all eBook writers who are in it for the long haul and of course, for the love of writing, should be willing to wait!

  2. eBook writer

    As a professional eBook writer, I am pretty much okay with the wait and patience it takes to write an eBook. It’s the wait afterwards that is very difficult. Selecting the right online publishers, getting the eBook published, checking and rechecking it, fixing any flaws etc. takes time and plenty of energy. But nothing beats waiting for the eBook to take off, if it ever does!
    Thanks for an awesome blog though. I believe that all eBook writers who are in it for the long haul and of course, for the love of writing, should be willing to wait!

  3. Jacquelyn Lynn

    You have so clearly defined the reason for the proliferation of junk on Amazon and other online publishing platforms: the demand for instant results and the easy access to publishing technology.

  4. Rachel Starr Thomson

    Great post, Susanne! Very timely for me as well. Of course for me right now it’s not so much the writing; it’s the learning to build a platform and accepting that effective relationships with people don’t build themselves overnight. Grateful for your encouragement on the journey!

  5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    The hardest part of waiting is now, after the debut novel is published, and before it catches on (if it will).

    I hope I don’t have to put in 10,000 hours learning to wait, too!

    I loved the writing time – have put far more than that many hours into learning to write, and writing: fifteen years sound like enough? And that was after 5 years for the first novel and half of its sequel.

    The other metric – a million words – was achieved years ago.

    You are entirely correct, even if you have things to do – many and necessary things – while waiting, waiting is hard.

    I would say that it is because the lack of control. When learning to write, or publish, there is always something that needs to be learned: learning is under my control. Not the speed of it, but putting the hours in until something is learned – from characters to ebook formatting.

    But after you put a novel into the world, even though there are many marketing things you can do and learn from, the control is completely gone. The book belongs to the world, and you can’t MAKE it go viral, or force people to buy it.

    I’m finding that part very hard.

    Once the POD is finished, back to the writing – and the debut will have to go live in the minds of its readers and the bits of marketing I can figure out how to do.

    Wish me luck. Because it will be luck, not skill in marketing, that makes this book take off.

    Me, I have writing to do. Trilogies don’t write themselves.

  6. Michael W. Perry

    The 10,000 hours numbers is bosh. The time to learn a job well varies enormously depending on its complexity and the ambiguity or uncertainity of the choices that have to be made.

    Years ago, after a series of unusual choices, I found myself, with nothing more than EMT training, caring for desperately sick kids with leukemia on the Hem-Onc unit at one of the country’s top children’s hospitals. I describe that in a book, My Nights with Leukemia.

    When I started, I was terrified. My job was to watch the kids and sound the alarm when one turned critical. I was afraid that a mere moment’s inattention meant a child would die. I learned how to make sure that never happened, in part my making sure that, even in the middle of the night, I never relaxed my vigilance.

    One night, after about two months on the job, the nurse I was working with was very sleepy. Her much-loved hubby, a USCG officer, had just returned from a six-week cruise and she was spending every moment she could with him. As result, she was very sleepy one night shift, and told me she’d be napping during her half-hour meal break.

    I thought nothing of it. Our seven kids were stable and I knew when and how to summon help. That was just after 4 a.m. She should have been back about 4:30, but I was so busy doing her work and mine, I didn’t notice until the head nurse showed up at 6 a.m. “Oh my gosh,” I thought, “I don’t think my nurse wanted to sleep this long.” I quietly slipped away, found and woke her in the nursing locker room, and then returned to the unit.

    The lesson: Outside an ICU, there are few areas in a hospital where patient care is more critical than pediatric cancer, particularly at night when staffing is thin. Yet there I was, two months and a mere few hundred hours on the job and I could do it so well, I felt no strain from running the unit myself. I not only knew what to do, I knew it well. Nurse trusted me. Parents trusted me. Kids trusted me.

    Contrast that to writing, which I’ve been doing with some seriousness since the early 1980s. I spent far more than 10,000 hours learning those skills and I still learn something new almost daily. Writing lacks the life-or-death critical nature of caring for children with leukemia, but it’s also far more complex and ambiguous. I’m not sure there is any point, 10,000 hours or any other, where it can be said to have been learned.

    Like I said, that 10,000-hour number is bosh. Some skills are quickly learned. Some are never learned to perfection.

    I’d add another item to that to-do list. Double the value of your time. While you’re doing other things—say walking, commuting or housework—listen to good writers on audiobooks. You need not pay Audible’s high prices. Websites like Librivox and Loyal Books offer classic, public domain tales for free. While the readers are volunteers, almost all are quite pleasant to listen to.

    I can even make a suggestion based on a book I’m listening to now. If you want to know how to create sympathetic characters, you can hardly do better than to learn from how Anne is portrayed in Anne of Green Gables. It’s about a sad, much neglected little orphan girl who wants very much to be happy.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia et al.

    • C. S. Lakin

      Good points, Michael. Of course there is no one rule for anything, just generalities and averages. If you haven’t read Gladwell’s book, I highly recommend it. He makes a great case for the 10,000 hours. But the point isn’t the exact number, it’s the principle behind it. In other words, expect to put in some substantial work to get good at anything. Unless you’re just exceptional and can take a short cut and succeed. But most people can’t.

  7. Liz Crowe

    Superb advice. I see my own maturity in writing progression across the last 6 years or so and many times have to remind myself the “overnight success” only truly occurs over time. Thanks.

  8. Ernie Zelinski

    You say, “you are going to have to become an expert the old-fashioned way—by hard work and persistence.”

    I disagree. First, hard work and persistence don’t guarantee success or expert status.

    My first book self-published in 1989 sold over 5,000 copies in the first two years. Fact is, there are tens of thousands of authors who could put 99 years of hard work and persistence into marketing their books and their books would still not sell 5,000 copies.

    Hard work isn’t required. Working smart is, however. What helps tremendously is having critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills, and plain common sense. Problem is, the majority of people lack one, two, or all three of these important skills, when it comes to creating a best-selling book.

    Working smart in part involves the 80/20 rule. In his book “Living the 80/20 Way”, Richard Koch states: “The 80/20 principle applies not only to groups of people and their behavior, but to virtually every aspect of life. There are always a small minority of very powerful forces and a great mass of unimportant ones . . . most causes have little result; a few transform life.”

    In other words, persistence and hard work in the wrong places are totally wasted. These inspirational words of wisdom have served me well over the years, getting me to a point in my life where I will this year make an income higher than that of 98 percent of working people by only working half an hour to an hour a day.

    “Never confuse movement with action.”
    — Ernest Hemingway

    “One principle reason why men are so often useless is that they divide and shift their attention among a multiplicity of objects and pursuits.
    — G. Emmons

    “Do the right things instead of trying to do everything right.”
    — Peter Drucker

    “There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm. Second, there are the hard-working intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everyone. Finally, there are the intelligent lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”
    — General von Manstein about the German Officer Corps

    “Success means only doing what you do well, letting someone else do the rest.”
    — Goldstein S. Truism

    “Instead of expending time to train yourself not to be afraid of snakes, avoid them altogether.”
    — Richard Koch

    “Most well-trodden paths lead nowhere.”
    — Unknown Wise Person

    “When all think alike, then no one is thinking.”
    — Walter Lippmann

    “The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.”
    — Bertrand Russell

    “I grew up in New England. I think I was brought up with the Puritan ethic: that if you worked really hard in life, then good would come to you. The harder you work, the luckier you get. I’ve come to believe that it’s the smarter you work, the better.”
    — Ken Blanchard

    “The society based on production is only productive, not creative.”
    — Albert Camus

    “The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.”
    — Henry David Thoreau

    There may be truth to the 10,000 hours rule up to a point. In many industries, however, the person with 30 years of experience is not any wiser and productive than the rookie with one or two years of experience. In fact, it is common for a rookie to come into an industry and totally outperform all the veterans because the rookie is truly creative and works smart. The reason that the veterans are still in the industry after 30 or 40 years is that they don’t have the smarts or competence to move onto something better and more lucrative.

    In short, I am happy that I never did buy into the “hard work” philosophy. It’s the “smart work” philosophy that has helped me sell over 900,000 copies of my books (mainly self-published) by working only an average of 3 or 4 hours a day over the last 25 years. As Thoreau added, “It is not enough to be busy . . . the question is: what are we busy about?”

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 285,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • C. S. Lakin

      No, of course hard work and persistence don’t mean guaranteed success. Who would ever say that? Did you write your book back then in a few weeks without ever studying anything about novel writing? I doubt it. Your success as an author is rare, I’m sure you know that. And a lot has to do with your topic, content, and audience. It’s one thing to write a nonfiction book with content that reaches a felt need. Another to write a novel. I doubt you can credit your success solely to your creative thinking and common sense. Plenty of authors have and use those attributes but don’t see success. What I’m focusing on here is the attitude that’s needed–a reasonable attitude about being willing to work for what you want.

      And who’s to say when persistence and hard work are being spent “in the wrong places”? If a person writes what he loves, would you say he’s being foolish because he should be writing something else that will sell 900,000 copies? I believe that’s up to the writer himself or herself to decide in what way he/she will follow those dreams and find joy in the process.



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