For my hair to grow. For the coffee to perk. For two pink lines to show up in the little window. Christmas. Sunshine. Vacation. Weight to drop. Husband to come home. Quitting time. Nap time. Dinner time. The snow to melt, the roads to clear, the cookies to cool. The glue to set, the paint to dry. The checker to check, the waiter to wait, the reader to read. The words to come. Nighttime. Daytime. The mail to come. Good news. Bad news. Any news.
We are writers; we spend much of our lives in the Waiting Place. (Thank you, Dr. Seuss.)
I was nine years old when I sent off my first story. It was about a pair of orphans, a brother and a sister, who lived in a tree. My mother read it when I wasn't looking and lamented: how could I write such a sad story? They had hammocks in the tree, I pointed out. And each other. I can't remember how the story ended, but I'm pretty sure I left them in that tree. Yes, sad, but at the time, I thought: brilliant.
I sent it off to Highlights on the sly--I didn't want my mother or anyone else to know I was trying to become a published writer, in case I failed--and haunted the mailbox for weeks. I told my mother I was waiting for a reply to a letter I'd sent to John Schneider, which was true, though I don't know why I thought fan mail to Bo Duke would be any less embarrassing than trying to be a short story-writer for Highlights.
The wait was short in ordinary human time--just a few weeks--but those few weeks dragged on for what felt like years. Not surprisingly, Highlights passed. My first rejection.
Is it the worst part? The waiting?
The hardest time I ever had with this was when the man who would become my agent was reading my novel. He sent me an email about a week after I sent him the ms and said he was "really enjoying it so far" and would be in touch "in a few days," when he finished the book.
Do you know what I did? I actually googled "few" to see what other people thought "few" meant. An unbearable weekend came and passed. I tortured myself by googling the agent and everyone on his client list. It was around Thanksgiving; my kids' activities were suspended, there were family gatherings, Black Friday to celebrate--my mother and I may not agree so much on what constitutes great literature, but we are a formidable shopping team--and every night, there was laundry to fold. This was my allotted worry time. I buried my face in warm towels straight from the dryer. I closed my eyes. I prayed-hoped-worried-waited.
There was a happy ending to this particular waiting season, but it doesn't always work this way, and regardless, the waiting is hell. It turns out that in this arena of the writing life, an obsessive nature--incredibly valuable when you're trying to get a scene right or when you're working on draft number 48 of your novel--is a major handicap.
So, how to get through? I fold laundry. I drink cheap jug wine and watch last season's 30 Rock on Netflix. I call emergency meetings at Panera Bread with my best writing pals. I get up early and run the loop around my house until I'm too weak to worry. I bake. And sometimes, I just give into it: I simply sit at my laptop and hit the refresh tab on my inbox page again and again, hoping, hoping, hoping something will come through. Right now.
The best advice is to get back to work. Plug right back into it, get on with your life, already.
I agree with that. But, I also say this: let yourself hope a little. Whatever it is you're waiting for--and, you're a writer, so I know you're waiting on something--remember, it really could happen today. Celebrate that. Living the writerly life--one where you're actively or at least infrequently submitting--means good news really could happen any second. Somewhere out there, an editor could be reading and loving your story. It could be happening now, as you read these words.
Also, remember that you are a writer but that's not everything. I love writing--I would count it one of the most important things in the world to me--but it's not everything. I was put on this planet to build relationships and to ponder really exciting things, big and small, and writing is a celebration of this--it's a celebration of everything, I think--but it's not everything.
I'm thinking of you today. Whoever you are. I'm thinking of you, there alone in your waiting place--I'm thinking of all the wait-ers--and I'm rooting for you. I'm hoping today is your day.