As a journalism student in college, I learned several lessons about patience, deadlines, and editors. First of all, editors have no patience with late or sloppy writers. And deadlines are everything.
Often within the span of hours, a newspaper reporter has to come up with a story idea, pitch it to the news desk, research it, conduct interviews, and write and deliver a compelling story, allowing enough time for the editor to do his/her thing. In this case, there is no time at all for them to mollycoddle. They might read the first sentence and toss it back at you. “This sucks. Rewrite it.”
Or things like “It’s wordy.” “You buried the lead.” “Move paragraph three to the top and start over.” Or just, “Nope.” And don’t even think about a clever ending because it very likely will get cut to make space for a last-minute ad placement.
Growing a Thicker Skin
Such treatment definitely helps tender writers grow thicker skins. But for those whose path to writing has bypassed this rewarding experience, the first time their precious work is edited can be a painful experience. And here’s where patience comes in.
If the editor returns your work quickly, you can suffer the quick rip of the bandage and get back to work much more easily than if they sit on it for weeks or months. Take their suggestions seriously. We all need an objective viewpoint, and what we think does not always come across clearly in what we write. One day you will love your editor.
If they take a few weeks or longer to return your work, you can feel stuck in the mud, with no place to turn. You’ll manufacture scenarios. They must hate it. They can’t bear to read it. They never made it past the first page and threw it down. Why else would it take so long? Or, maybe they love it, and they can’t think of anything constructive to say? What if it’s so good they are already showing it to an agent or a movie producer? What if someone like that got hold of it and is sending you a contract right now?
Oh, the creative mind does wander.
An editor may do all sorts of things, like add your work to the bottom of an already impossible pile. Read it in small bits between trips to the grocery store and childcare. Read it once, set it aside for a week or so, and then read it again to see if their impressions have changed. Fill in the blank with any number of scenarios. Editors are humans, after all, and have their own lives, styles, and priorities.
But whether well-seasoned or new, a writer is not required to suffer.
Four tips for the impatient.
Patience, for me, is almost an offensive swear word, but I know it’s my challenge to conquer. Here’s what has worked for me so far.
Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.
If you’re new to writing and haven’t been edited before, your best course of action is the same as preparing for a hurricane. You’ve done your best; now let it go. Feedback will come quickly or slowly according to wind speed, but come it will. When it does, stand up and take it. Repair after.
I always have several other projects that need my attention. Right now, there are eleven items on my desk, not including this post and the stacks of family photos I’m supposed to scan. Immersion in any one of them will take my mind off the waiting and hopefully reduce the number of projects staring back at me. I get frustrated and sometimes overwhelmed, but I am never bored.
My absolute favorite is to go outside and weed the flowerbeds. And I do mean weed them --rip those suckers out with brute force. It’s a form of editing and can be immensely satisfying. Plus, you can see your accomplishment before your eyes; what you managed to uncover is much more beautiful than when you started. Immediate gratification. You could also just go for a swim.
Pleasure and relaxation.
My go-to for this is chocolate and a walk on the beach, maybe some shopping, and if I am really brain-frazzled, just an old movie and a blanket. I don’t recommend alcohol; it’s depressing and highly detrimental to brain cells, especially the creative ones. Ice cream or a magnificent espresso concoction will do the trick much better. As will a massage.
When the feedback arrives -- whether you like it or not -- put on your big kid pants and deal. Be grateful someone took the time to read your work and pay careful attention to it. You worked very hard on it. You want it to shine. Editors do too.