The fine art of coping with indifference
December 5, 2012 10:09 PM   Subscribe

I recently finished writing a novel and want to find an agent to represent it. But wait--my question isn't what you might expect: I don't want advice about finding an agent, publisher, etc. I just want some advice on dealing with the unbearable tension of the submissions process. What can I do to distract myself or otherwise feel like I'm not just sitting around waiting for responses that will likely never come?

It's been years since I submitted any work for publication on a regular basis and never a major, book-length work. As a creative writing undergrad, I had a lot of early (in hindsight, fairly easy) successes, including placing poems in a couple of national literary journals and a few academic awards, but I've been too busy trying to make a career in music over the intervening years, and now I'm finding it much harder than I expected to deal with the excruciatingly long wait times/ambiguous outcomes that I know from experience are only par for the course when submitting/querying. And I made a couple of early, amateurish missteps when submitting to agents that have badly shaken my confidence. It doesn't help that the conventional wisdom seems to be there's no market left for the kind of novel I wrote anyway (literary fiction, though I like to think it's not the dull kind), and that it's been in the works for ten years already in one form or another.

Since my writerly, psychological coping skills have obviously gotten rusty, I was wondering if any other writers out there on MeFi who are or have recently been in this position have personal tips for managing the emotional toll. I could throw myself into a new writing project but I'm too preoccupied and afraid of shifting my focus away from the one I just finished. Any suggestions for how to cope? Or for healthy escapist strategies? Please hope me, MeFi!
posted by saulgoodman to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The only way out is through -- start something new. Short story, canto, epic poem, a pulpy novel, another literary masterpiece, it doesn't matter what it is, but start something new right now. Bury all the feelings of inadequacy in new characters, new situations, new locations, new relationships. Revel in it. Even if it ends up being fifty awful pages that you put in a drawer until the end of eternity, it doesn't matter, it will have done its job. Start something new.
posted by incessant at 10:15 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Write another book. Seriously, start an outline ASAP and go to work. It will help you feel like your eggs aren't all in one basket.

Sorry! Querying sucks.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:21 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

After I found an agent I trusted, I would leave it in her hands asking only for twice monthly updates unless there was some good news that required a decision sooner than the next update.

And, I would find another project with which to keep busy.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:30 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, 4thing the advice to get busy on something else. Here's my twist: write something short so you can get that out quickly. If it gets picked up, great, you've got more ammo for your cover letter. If not, well, you've got your first rejection out of the way. I don't know what genre you write, but a lot of the science-fiction/fantasy short markets (especially the online ones) have really quick turn around times.
posted by zanni at 11:03 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chatting on sites like or the Speakeasy at might help vent stress.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:17 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

You most likely have an idea in the back of your mind that you'd like to write now that your current one is finished (for the time being). Try to transfer some of your enthusiasm from the current idea to the new one - and then, as everyone else has already suggested, start working on it. Before you know it, you'll find yourself thinking more about Idea B than Idea A, and the wait for agents to respond won't seem nearly as tense.
posted by anaximander at 2:07 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh! Oh! I just adopted a new and extremely successful philosophy: If I have enough time to worry about the state of my career or fret about what progress my agent is making or whatever, then obviously I need to give my brain something better to do. Working, sure, but actually my solution is: In the very moment when I catch myself thinking those thoughts, I cut that short and go out and learn something I did not know before.

This is also excellent for creating a nice well of new stuff to keep writing about. So there's that. :)
posted by Andrhia at 8:08 PM on December 6, 2012

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