The Inevitable Traffic Jams on the Journey to Publication

Last week I had to be away from home due to a family emergency. The week was tense and stressful, but I was glad I could help my dear mother through a difficult time. If you didn’t see me around cyberland as much as usual, that’s why. (Plus I had very spotty internet connection, which was a huge trial too!)

During the long nine-hour drive home, I chugged coffee and worked hard to stay awake—especially because my kids were along and I wanted to drive safely for them. As I crossed the border into Michigan, I finally started to breathe easier. I was on the home stretch. 

Or so I thought . . . Only an hour away from my town in the center of the state, I got stuck in two traffic jams. In ninety-plus degree heat, there I sat on the interstate in a bumper-to-bumper crawl. A legless tortoise could have gone faster. 

As I tapped the steering wheel and craned my neck to see what was causing the hold-up, I realized I could allow myself to go crazy with the frustration of waiting, or I could sit back and take it in stride. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to change the fact that I couldn’t go anywhere.

Many writers are zipping down the highway with the end destination of publication. And yet, just when we think we’re getting close to reaching our dream, the road narrows, goes down to one lane, and is no longer wide enough for everyone. 

As we merge, we get stuck in an epic writers' traffic jam. Writers who once could move along at their own pace suddenly screech to a near-halt and find themselves in a massive clog of other writers, unable to move forward or go back. 

Let’s face it, the highways that lead to “Agent City” and “Traditional Publication Town” are popular and busy and can’t accommodate everyone at the same time. Therefore, in today’s mammoth, somewhat antiquated writing industry, traffic jams have become an inevitable part of the journey

Unfortunately, when we’re in those hold-ups we have no control over how long we’ll have to wait or how fast the line moves. But . . . we do have control over our attitudes during the frustrating standstill. Here are several things we can do to make the most of the traffic jams:

    Distract ourselves.

When we’re waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher, it’s very hard not to check our email a hundred times an hour. We can drive ourselves crazy—just like constantly looking ahead in the traffic line to see if the end is finally in sight. We’ll only feed our impatience and stir up our discontentment.

We need to stop craning our necks to see the future. Instead we can look for ways to distract ourselves in the present: think about other things, study good books, read fiction how-to guides, brainstorm ideas—anything to take our minds off the situation.

    Stay productive.

It’s one thing to distract ourselves, but it’s another thing to keep working on tasks that will really help us.  We can get sidetracked with social media, our blogs, or a hundred and one other things. But we have to ask ourselves, are we staying productive in the work that will really help our careers?

During my waiting periods, I’ve found that the best thing I can do is to write another book. While The Preacher’s Bride sat in a slush pile for nine long months, I completed another manuscript. Then when agents and publishers started to show an interest in me, I had a second book to present to them. 

    Establish smaller milestones.

When we look too far ahead, it’s easy to get dissatisfied by the distance we still have to go. We start to wish we could trade places with those who are further along. And we grow discouraged with the slowness of the journey and the roadblocks before us.

Instead, we should look for ways we can still keep moving forward one inch at a time. We need to always keep writing in one form or another. I set daily and weekly word count goals. If I don’t meet the word count one day, I try to make up for it by the end of the week.

I also celebrate every time I reach a new milestone (no matter how big or small). This journey is tough, and we need to take every opportunity we can to give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done.

How about you? Have you ever hit a traffic jam in your writing journey? What kinds of things have you done to keep yourself from going crazy during the waiting?

This week I'm giving away a signed copy of my next release, The Doctor's Lady (Sept. 1). Answer an easy trivia question to enter the drawing! Click here for rules and to enter.


  1. Very wise words here Jody... in fact, it could have been my agent talking (distract yourself/write the follow-up)! You help to calm the troubled waters that all our little boats are bobbing about in. Thank you. Jane Gray

  2. This reminds me of a writing analogy I put up on my blog a long time ago (when I was waiting to hear from pub was supposed to go to pub board seven months before it actually went):

    Seeking publication is like being stuck in a horrible traffic jam when you're super excited to get to a show. Any creep forward makes you ridiculously excited. Like, "Alright. This is it. Things are moving now!" Then all of a sudden, you're in a standstill again, wondering if the road exploded. Wondering if you'll ever get there. Craning your neck out the window, trying to see what's causing the backup, only a big stupid truck's in the way.

    So this is wonderful advice Jody! Waiting is NOT easy. Especially when we're so eager to move forward.

  3. Great advice! I agree. We can drive ourselves crazy waiting!

  4. First, cool you were there for your mom!

    Second, to keep myself from going crazy? :D Too late. Couldn't agree more with your points. I get involved in a project or writing a new book. I limit my online time and pray a lot. A lot. A lot.
    ~ Wendy

  5. Good morning, everyone! I think when you're almost there, that's when traffic jams are the worst. You're SO ready to reach your destination, to be there already. And I think that's true of the writing journey too. When we're starting to get interest from agents, or our critique partners tell us our work is great, or we final in a contest, or whatever. We know we're getting close to publication which makes the hold up all the more annoying!

  6. I struggle at times not to be distracted by the internet and blogging, because I try to convince myself that those are important aspects of a writing career, too. However, if blogging and tweeting are keeping us from actual writing, we could easily get nowhere even faster. We need to stay productive even during the seasons of waiting. I needed to hear this today, Jody!

  7. Waiting processes! I had to laugh at the "ck'ing our e-mail hundreds of times" part--so true! I tried to do other things during that time and keep myself busy writing. Now that I have my fab agent, it's the next leg of the journey. I'm sure waiting is God's way of "seasoning" us and growing us in ways we might not have otherwise.

  8. Nice analogy. I'm glad you had a safe trip and that it brought this post to mind.



  9. This is such great advice, and most days I am able to follow it. Other days. . .well, I'm convinced I need to grab the wheel so I can drive up over the median and find a shortcut to my destination. LOL

    Even though it's hard to focus on other writing-related things, that's what I try to do, since there is something productive that results.

  10. Great analogy, Jody. I once read that the best way to "practice patience" is to do something else while you're waiting for....whatever it is. I remind myself of that advice when I start to lose patience and get consumed with email checking, countdown ticking, etc.

  11. Jody,
    Yes, I feel that visual so many times of the epic writer traffic jam!

    Sometimes a simple mantra helps me re-focus to escape the craziness of it all..."I am writing for me. I am writing the story I am inspired to write." And then I get back to just "the writing" and remember why I enjoy it and forget the waiting part. And instead of filling up that time with non-productive "busy-ness" I get down to the "business" of just writing.

    Thanks for reminding us to re-focus and concentrate on being productive in other ways while we "wait"!

  12. Jody, you never fail to encourage me with your blog. Sigh. You're the best. :)
    hugs and hope all is well now ...

  13. Good post. Thanks.

  14. Hate traffic jams, especially so close to home. Sorry you got stuck in one.
    What did I do to keep myself from going crazy when I was stuck in traffic along the writing road?
    (Warning: The analogy breaks down here a little bit.)
    I realized I wasn't the only one stuck in the traffic jam. And I made some friends. Connected. (Yeah, I know. It's not like you could have gotten out of your car, pulled out a portable BBQ and had a roadside block party!) I encouraged other writers and was encouraged by them. The relationships I made definitely kept me from going crazy while I waited.

  15. Having been "on sub" the last 5 months I can relate to this.

  16. Fantastic post! Even the day to day things that writers have to do can sometimes feel like they're at a crawl pace, but the key is to just keep going. Find other things to work on and do, like you said. Such great advice, thank you!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  17. This is definitely a post I'm going to re-visit! I've struggled with this issue since publishing my first book - only recently have the "tail lights" dispersed revealing clear road ahead :) Feels so good to be back in the writing/producing mode once again. Thank you for this!

  18. Such good advice, Jody. I've been there, and your suggestions are spot on. And sometimes those little milestones lead to something bigger.

  19. Establishing smaller milestones is great suggestion.

    I always have a pad of paper and pen handy in my vehicle to get me through those waiting games. Wonderful ideas seem to pop up in those situations.

    I pray your mom is alright and well on the mend, Jodie!

  20. Thanks for the reminder, Jody! Sounds like the road to publishing is more traffic jams than steady driving anyway, so anyone heading that direction might as well stop-off for snacks and some good music before they ever get on the "expressway."

  21. Getting to publishing is like a traffic jam with red lights, construction zones and speeding tickets. You can get a stack of papers in the process, but you do have to be patient.

    I recently self-published a novel and while I'm busy with marketing, I'm also querying another novel while revising a third. My eye is still on the prize.

  22. Very true, Marji! When we're prepared well ahead of time for backups, and we know they're coming, then it's easier to deal with them when we finally get caught in one! And I love the idea of stopping off for snacks and good music! Might as well do all we can to enjoy the journey, even when we're stuck! :-)

  23. Great reminder, Jody. Whenever I start to crane my neck to see too far ahead, I ask God to help me be more passionate about writing than I am about being published. That way I stay in the Now, working and being fulfilled, not wasting this precious time tapping my fingers on the steering wheel and randomly flipping the radio dial. :)

  24. Jody, I hope your mom is okay. How sweet of you to be there for her.

    As for waiting, I've found that cleaning my house is a good strategy, especially on a day like today when my kids are at their grandparents. :) And writing a new book is a good idea...gets us ready to juggle life as a published author when we're writing one, editing another, and marketing another.

    Our pastor did a sermon on discouragement yesterday, and there was a quote I just have to share. He said, "Discouragements are not dead end roads; they're just turns in the road." Or, I guess applied to this post, "Discouragements aren't traffic jams; they're just scenic detours." :)

  25. So glad to see you back in the unofficial online community of writers after a break from the internet. Sometimes, we can focus too much on all the e-mails, social media, blogs, and a zillion other things - - besides our writing.

  26. Great advice as usual, Jody. I'd like to add, though, that reaching the goal of a first contract doesn't mean an author suddenly gets permission to zip over to the carpool lane and zoom past everyone else. The waiting continues, as does the competition for the limited number of spots available. So, moving on to the next project is sound advice at any stage of a writer's journey.

  27. Spot on Jodie, I never feel like I'm waiting for anything, there's always so much to do. Stories pop out of nowhere, books demand to be read, critiquing to do, learning to do. The list is endless. Enjoying the journey is the best place to be.

    You did well not to go crazy in that traffic jam though!

  28. Writing is the best detour for those traffic jams.

    Love the post.

  29. And sometimes...YOU are the accident... your car is banged up and has to be towed and you don't think you'll EVER get home but they finally fix your car and when you start driving again, the traffic isn't nearly so bad (or sometimes, the traffic is still there, but either way... HA!)

    GREAT analogy, Jody!!!!

  30. I attended a conference where the speaker talked about the need for making "white space" in our days, times we're not scheduled to do anything can can just reflect on things. Unexpected stops like a traffic jam provide just that. Considering all the years I used to spend hours commuting I wish I known then how to use that time to reduce my stress.

  31. So glad you got to go be with your mom.
    Traffic jams can be frustrating, I'm learniing that living in Houston now! But either on the road or with writing I try to just take a deep breath and relax. Use the time I have been given and put it to good use.

  32. Just suffered through a couple of family crises myself and am on the entrance ramp of Agent Road. After being disconnected from my goals for a few weeks, the traffic makes me want to cut across the grass and get back on the frontage road. I imagine coming to a stop sign and finding fulfillment down another avenue. It would be easy to do, but I won't. I didn't start this journey lightly and a little traffic is not doing to deter me.

  33. Great blog post - I think I've been picked up by a tow truck and am heading backwards. Great advice on keeping busy and productive.

  34. The past eight months has been a time of accelerated learning for me in my writing. I'm on a high right now. But I fear as I approach two writers conferences in the next month and a half (OCW and ACFW) that I will get a huge dose of the "not-ready-yet's" and I will have to hit the breaks. We'll see, but that's where my neurotic writer's mind keeps going!!
    Thanks for the tips. I might need them very soon:):)

  35. I'm sorry that you had a hard week and I hope all is well now.

    You're absolutely right about the traffic jams. In a perfect world, our journeys would only be smooth sailing. In a realistic world, they never are. There are always bumps and distractions, but you've shared some really great advice on how to weather those rough patches. Thanks!

  36. Good reminder. Good Advice. Thnx. :o)


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