Waiting. That’s where we are at the moment. Camellia revised a short story, researched a list of journals to send it to, and submitted the piece. I revised my novel, found a new title (more on that later), and submitted it to my agent. Our deadlines met, now the waiting begins. What to do? Get back to work, of course. Because, as Alexander Chee wrote in his new essay in The Awl, to tell yourself that when you’re not engaged in the process of writing, you’re thinking about writing, therefore you are writing, is one of those lies writers tell themselves.
But what about the waiting? How do you deal with that? Let’s face it, waiting months to learn if your story got accepted at a literary journal is no picnic. Neither is waiting to hear back from your agent. The not knowing is a difficult part of the process. You have to remind yourself everyday, people need to time to read your work and to make a decision about it. Literary journals are notoriously understaffed. Agents have, yes, other authors they represent. In other words, you can’t dwell on the fate of your work, you’ll just get stuck in a holding pattern. Easier said than done. We discussed this recently, and it went something like this:
Camellia: One part of writing I will never be prepared for is the waiting. Waiting to hear back from readers, waiting to hear back from agents, waiting to hear back from editors. You would think it gets easier with experience. You would be wrong.
Marco: Let’s talk about something else. Like boardgames. Let’s play War of the Ring.
Camellia: Hmm…so you’re suggesting avoidance as a strategy to cope with the anxiety of waiting?
Marco: Not avoidance, no. The thing is you can’t make your life about the thing you’re waiting on.
Camellia: What are some strategies you’re using to deal with the waiting that you’re going through right now? Besides trying to convince me to spend an entire weekend kicking your ass again as Sauron in War of the Ring. *
Camellia makes strategies and charts and lists. That’s part of her process. It works for her. I don’t operate in that way. But she is right—avoidance is a part of my process for dealing with waiting. Right now, I’m reading all six books in the hardcover reprinting of Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing. I’ll know when I’m ready to get back to work. It will become the thing I can no longer avoid.
Eventually, you run out of ways and places to hide from yourself. Writing is just a part who you are. And when that happens, it’s like meeting up with old friends. You start inhabiting that place again where you’re listening to these other people, the characters in your new novel or short story. Soon, you find that you can’t stop. What they have to tell you is too important. Their lives depend on you listening. All you have to do is write everything down.
And if, while you’re waiting to hear back from your agent, you find yourself worrying about getting that six figure book deal? Don’t.
Do they think money’s everything? The only yardstick that life’s quality is measured by? Yes, yes, they do, and that is why they are so very poor.
—Alan Moore, Saga of The Swamp Thing.
* It really does take an entire weekend to play War of the Ring. And, for the record, we’re 2 for 2.