You know something I’m really not good at? Waiting. You know something I’m epically ill-equipped to do? Wait. You know the virtue that would be on the very tip-top of my list of the ones I don’t have? Patience. You know what a writer spends a lot of her time doing? Waiting.
I’m not the first or the last writer to bemoan the torment of waiting. It’s nothing new to writing and it’s really nothing new to me. Somewhere in my basement there’s a stack of envelopes addressed in my own handwriting full of form rejections from literary journals for stories of mine they did not want to publish. Imagine that! I was sending out short stories back in the day when you actually used things like stamps! Think how much longer the waiting must have been then!
Since I climbed back on the writing horse a few years ago, almost everything I’ve sent out has been over e-mail or online forms. I sent out one story on a Sunday and heard back from the journal the next Tuesday. That’s fast. The quickest draws in the querying world will reject you within hours or minutes, and I have a certain amount of appreciation for that; it’s like pulling the band-aid off all at once rather than the slow motion feel of each individual body hair being pulled out by its root.
The waiting I’m currently doing feels much worse than the waiting I did in the past. Maybe summer waiting is the worse waiting, when (as an academic on a 9-month contract) you literally have all day with nothing to do but wait. Or it might have something to do with the particular method of rejection. When you can hear back from one journal in two days or a rejection from an agent in hours, shouldn’t everything be that quick? The mail, after all, only comes once a day. E-mail is instantaneous and must be checked without ceasing. With online submission you can check the status of your short story daily. Every morning if you like, and then perhaps again in the afternoon and before you got to bed, just to make sure. Of course, that would be really counter-productive and borderline crazy, so it’s not something I would do. But you could.
Sometimes I think the problem isn’t even the waiting itself. The problem is trying to control what you think about while you’re waiting. When I first started sending out queries for my novel, I did a bit of a pre-mourning thing. I told myself, “This novel will probably never be published.” Then I pushed the send button and out it went. It seemed like a healthy state of mind to be in. It worked until I got my first request for a full from an agent.*
I know from following the paths of many other writers what a request for a full means. It’s a good thing. It is a necessary step between your novel not being published and your novel being published. It’s no guarantee. Repeat this over and over to yourself. “No guarantee. No guarantee. No guarantee.” It will get much easier to internalize after one of those requests for a full or a partial gets rejected.
But inevitably, there’s something hopeful about the idea that people are reading your novel, people with power to make things happen. And it’s hard to squelch all the what-if’s that run around in your head. I’m not going to even articulate the what-if’s–you know what they are–because I am the kind of deeply suspicious person who believes that saying something out loud, let alone writing it, is inviting Fate to teach you a hard lesson in the best-laid plans. I won’t go so far as to say I’m a pessimist, but it seems wise not to run too far ahead of yourself in this situation.
I may not be a pessimist, but I am vaguely Buddhist, and there is probably a lesson to be learned here along those lines. The problem with waiting is that you are constantly projecting yourself into the future, rather than being in the present moment. Sometimes that future is filled with sparkly, exciting moments. Sometimes it’s filled with images of you curled up on the floor in a fetal position wondering why you were ever so stupid as to put words on a page. Either way, it’s not the present.
I know from conversations with published writers that the grass may not be greener on the other side of publication. Or maybe it’s greener, but it also gives you heartburn. Pick your metaphor, but keep in mind that being a published author will not cure all that ails you. There’s a freedom to writing purely for yourself instead of for an agent or editor with whom you have signed a contract. Being present means enjoying that freedom while you can. It means appreciating the joys of writing regardless of whether or not you have an agent. It means writing while you wait. Or it just means keep on writing.