How to Pass the Time When You Know Someone is Reading Your Manuscript

Is that a descriptive blog post title or what? If you’ve written something–anything–and then handed that precious piece of yourself off to others to read and comment on, you know what I’m talking about here.

It all starts when we begin as schoolchildren to hand in papers to our teachers. Some of us forget about it until it is handed back with a grade scrawled on the top. Others obsess about all its faults, revise even though we know it is too late, pray that somehow God will show mercy on us and inspire our teacher to give us a good grade.

In college, those of us who are maybe just a bit nerdy (we like to call ourselves “driven”) find that the longer wait time between the hand-off and the hand-back is…tedious. And then many people go on to careers where nothing is handed in and nothing is handed back, and if it is, it is rarely a piece of writing into which you have poured out your knowledge, your passion, your very self. (Am I being overly dramatic?)

In my line of work–copywriting–I turn in lots of writing. Piles Gigabytes of it over the years. But it is a rare thing when I am tied up in knots about how it will be received by the marketing directors, editors, and authors who will see it, critique it, even savage it (with a conciliatory smile, of course). My heart and soul are not wrapped up in marketing copy because I understand that those words are on the page to do a very specific job (sell the book) and the people who are editing and suggesting revision to that copy are just as keen on doing that very specific job as I am, and they can help me do it.

But when it comes to creative writing, whether you write novels or memoir or poetry or fan fic, when you hand your work off to someone else (a friend, a colleague, an agent, a contest judge, or any number of people via online dissemination) you are entering a mental and emotional state laced with tension. So how do you get your mind off it? How do you stop yourself from checking your email every hour for a response or staring at your phone, willing a text or call to come in? How do you stop obsessing over what you think your reader(s) will dislike about what you’ve written? In short, how do you stop yourself from becoming a paranoid freak?

It seems to me that one of the most surefire ways to get your mind off things is to start writing something else. If you have a notebook or a mind teeming with ideas, start bringing one of them into being. If you have no earthly idea what to write next, start doing writing exercises you can find in such books as The Art of Fiction or The Pocket Muse. But by all means, start writing something else. Pull yourself away from your finished manuscript, your familiar characters, your comfortable setting and begin creating something entirely new. Fall in love with another story. As a wise person once said, “The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”

Don’t waste your time with hand wringing  Move ahead. Then, when one day you get a call or an email from that friend or colleague or agent ready to discuss your work, it will be a pleasant surprise and you’ll be able to tell them about what you’re working on now. So, what are you going to write today?