As the saying goes, it takes years to become an overnight success. Oftentimes, this feels doubly true when it comes to writing. There’s a reason that most people don’t release a book worth a damn until they are 35. As most writers know, the publishing process is a long road, whether you are looking for traditional representation or publishing your own graphic novel like I am. In fact, writing and waiting are practically synonymous these days, especially in a digital world where you’re increasingly fighting for people’s attention.
Writing and waiting go hand in hand because the relationship of the writer to their audience has fundamentally changed. Slinging words on your blog is one way to get that immediate gratification, but professional writers need to think of themselves as a business. No longer can you make a living selling short stories to sci-fi anthologies like an early Isaac Asimov or Harlan Ellison. Instead you need to be content writing lots of content, or working a day job and pursuing your creative endeavors on your off-hours.
But a writer treating themselves as a business is nothing new. Shakespeare did it in a way that is creatively fulfilling to even modern audiences. But as a writer, Shakespeare ultimately had two masters — his royal patrons and the masses, and his work needed to appeal to both in different ways.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other pre-modern authors who didn’t have to learn the relationship between writing and waiting. Charles Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers at 26,and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 20. But these are exceptions, and also a product of their era. There was no such thing as free news, let alone memes and internet culture. Novels (outside of drinking) were one of the biggest forms of entertainment, and book sales reflected that.
But now, writers aren’t as necessary to society. Yes, they do serve an important and vital function. But no singular writer is going to make the next Marvel or Star Wars. Entertainment is now a collaborative process, and any singular vision will ultimately be stifled by that. That’s not to say that all writing is beholden to that, but it’s not as though Phillip K Dick was writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in a world where Blade Runner already existed.
This is why writing and waiting are so closely related. There’s more to learn and more to absorb as a young writer, and while innovation is certainty possible, it can’t happen solely through writing anymore. It takes patience and perseverance in an overstated market where people are used to getting things for free. And that last part can’t be understated; it’s a key reason as to why journalists have jumped on #TheResistance train. Ultimately, you get what you a pay for, and if you don’t pay, well, this is what you get.
The writer’s dilemma — and the waiting that comes with it — was a big part of a novel I recently read. A nearly 1000 page tome, Murakami’s IQ84 is a huge novel that is fundamentally about the power of the novel, and how it can change the world. It’s a nice thought, of course. But it’s unrealistic. Your writing is not going to change the world.
The truth is, very few people who are starting their writing career in the modern digital age will have that much power with their writing. You can’t be Stephen King if Stephen King already exists. You’re going to have to find another way out of your creative cell, because every time someone breaks out, they close up that escape route and dig you further in.
This is why writing and waiting needs to be embraced by writers. I wrote the first draft of my graphic novel when I was 21 years old. It won’t be published until I’m 28, and that’s only because I took the production part into my own hands. Otherwise it might have taken until I was 35, or maybe never.
And if you don’t have the capital to invest in your own writing career, you need to accept that. Nobody needs your writing out in the world more than you do. Of course, you want to write the stories that you want to read, the takes on stories that don’t exist, at least not with your personal spin on them. That might mean that’s what to see out on bookshelves, but you’ll need to wait to make that happen. No idea is so timely that it can’t exist in the context of anything else. Otherwise, you’re not writing a story, you’re just writing an idea.
Writing our moment is a laudable goal, but it’s also short-sighted for a new writer, one that has to wait to publish. Good stories should be timeless; they don’t need to be universal, but they need to speak to human nature. Otherwise, you’re just writing the next Lord of the Rings, and not even fans of the movie want to read that.