Janis Joplin once said: "I love being on stage. And everything else is just waiting."
"That's where I think I got it from," Tom Petty said in Paul Zollo's Conversations with Tom Petty.
[Roger] McGuinn swears that he said it to me. Maybe he did. I don't think so. I think I got it from the Janis Joplin quote. That's where it stuck in my mind. I don't think she said, 'The waiting is the hardest part,' but it was something to that effect: "Everything else is just waiting." And so that's where that came from.
Petty started to compose the other verses around the Janis Joplin quote and did so in a linear fashion.
Petty said it was a long and drawn-out process to write the song as he had a really great chorus but had to work backwards from it which was hard. He was pretty determined to get it and he did. It just took him a longer time, in fact it took him weeks.
His determination to build a song as good as its chorus came at the expense of everything else he was working on at the time:
If you're not lucky enough to get it all in one burst, but you know you've got something there, and there's any number of ways of getting it, any number of ways of completing it. But only one is going to be right.
Petty's focus paid off as "The Waiting" gave Petty and the Heartbreakers their 3rd Top 20 Billboard Hot 100 hit and NO. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.