Gillian Harvey: Why the pain of waiting (especially when you’ve just finished your first book) is sometimes too much

Read the latest column from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

One thing that I’ve had to learn since having a book published is how to wait. Writing a book is one thing, but the rounds of edits, cover designs, proofs and the nail-biting pause before publication day mean the bit between typing the last chapter and seeing it in a bookshop can seem to take forever.

Of course, it’s right that these things take time – producing 80,000 error-free words is no mean feat. The right cover is crucial, and publishers schedule novels a year or more in advance to ensure the timing is just right.

I’m lucky that I have my publisher to manage this side of things for me. If it was up to me, I’d type ‘The End’ on a manuscript and expect to see it on the shelves five minutes later. And it would be an absolute disaster.

I also struggle with emails. As a fast thinker and speedy typist, I have been known to fire messages into cyberspace with barely a moment’s thought. Then can hardly bear the wait for a response.

I’m aware of this side of my personality, so do try to keep things to a minimum and have managed to reduce my inbox refreshing to only fifty times an hour – and sometimes less! 

The problem I have is that for someone who wants everything Now! Now! Now! it’s hard to judge whether I’m being patient when I wait to ask a question or whether I just think I am. And to realise that 24-hour silence doesn’t mean that someone hates me – just that they are normal, whereas I am patently NOT.

Then comes the moment when I get a reply. Should I respond instantly, or will they start to wonder if I actually have nothing better to do each day than hover over my inbox waiting for them to contact me?

If I wait too long, will they think I’m not interested or inefficient? If I type an instant reply will I seem needy or desperate?

This sort of question arose on a journo group I’m on recently. “When an editor sends me a brief out of the blue,” asked one writer, “how long should I wait before replying?” 

The answer she got? “Straight away! This isn’t a boy you like.” 

In this instance, being quick on the draw and highly responsive is definitely a plus.

But what about longer term projects?  My next novel isn’t out until next May, but I have So Many Questions about it. I realise many of my questions aren’t even answerable yet, and have to remind myself that what is an all-encompassing obsession for me, is only one of tens of books my publisher and agent are working with.

So as well as working on articles, trying to keep five children safe and fed, splitting up fights and hyperventilating into a paper bag, at least some of my time is spent trying to hold back on the correspondence.

Even so, I’m pretty convinced my literary agent and publisher think I’m borderline annoying. And almost certain they think I’m borderline insane. Yet, in actual fact, the emailed questions I bombard them with represent only 40% of the ones I’d actually like to send.

Anyone remember that scene in ‘Bruce Almighty’ when Jim Carrey’s character asks for people’s prayers to be sent to him on Post-It notes? Seconds later, every available surface is covered in yellow stickers.

That is the level of email enquiries I’m actually holding back.

40% is as low as I can cope with going – fewer, and I’d probably explode. More and I’d probably cause my publisher to have a nervous breakdown.

To some, these things come naturally. But for me, it would be handy if someone could compile a guide about which emails to store in my ‘drafts’ for 24 hours and which I should ping into the ether at once. 

Plus, invent some way of working out whether the people on the receiving end are waiting for a response with bated breath, or actually thinking: “oh God, not her again!”

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fine is out now.