(I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. Then today, my dear, wise friend Courtney posted on her blog about conditional happiness — nearly the exact topic I’ve been mulling over for weeks — and I took it as a kick in the pants to go ahead and write my post. So thanks, Court, for being my shoulder angel, yet again.)
So. I suck at waiting. But I find myself forced to do it a lot — in life in general, not just in writing — and it occurs to me, perhaps some of you are waiting too, and would like to know if your crazy is Crazy crazy or normal crazy.
Well, I can speak with zero authority on normal. But I can tell you what waiting is like for me, and what I’ve learned from it about contentment.
As I sit here smack dab in the middle of my search for an agent (no news on that front yet, so you can let out that breath you’ve been holding), I’ve read lots of “How I Got My Agent” posts from other writers. It sometimes makes the waiting easier to read stories of writers who went through this process and survived. Of course, it also sometimes makes the waiting harder, especially when I read a post about how the author got an email five minutes after querying and ten full requests and eight offers of representation, all in the course of two days.
That is not the norm. And it has most definitely not been my experience.
I’m not going to get into details of my agent search, because in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not over, but I will tell you I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had form rejections and enthusiastic requests. My work has been met with both wonderfully encouraging feedback and thunderous silence. I’ve had critique partners praise an aspect of my writing, only to then have an agent pass because of that very thing.
It’s enough to drive a person batty.
I’ve done all the things I swore, months ago when I first dipped my toe into the query waters, I would not do. I’ve compulsively refreshed my email every 30 seconds. I’ve Twitter-stalked the agents who had my query/pages/partial/full. I’ve prayed for immediate good news, and given God ridiculous deadlines, because I was tired of waiting (He said to chill). I’ve texted friends lamenting how badly I suck as a writer, asking them to please drop everything to give me a pep talk because otherwise I’m going to set fire to my computer.
(Sorry, friends. I hope to never do that to you again. Especially not in the middle of your hair appointment.)
Waiting is hard, folks. Especially when you don’t know if the light at the end of the tunnel even exists. I don’t know if I’m waiting right now on acceptance or rejection. Waiting for something good — like a birthday or Christmas — can be hard enough. Same goes for waiting for something bad, like a root canal. But when you’re not sure if the thing you’re waiting for is Christmas or a root canal — well, that’s the hardest of all. Do I wait with excitement or dread? Fear or giddiness?
I started querying five months ago, and at first, my heart would sink with every rejection and soar with every request. I would bounce with nervous anticipation for days after shooting off an email. A surge of adrenaline would course through me with every ding of my inbox. I quickly learned to hate promotional emails with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. (Darn you, Chili’s!)
In case you’re unaware, for most authors, every stage of the publishing process is long. It takes a long time to write a book. It takes a long time to revise a book. It takes a long time to query, a long time to hear back from agents, a long time to revise again, a long time to submit to editors, and a long time from sale to publication. Yes, there are those happy few who find some of their steps abbreviated, but they probably experienced other steps that seemed to stretch out interminably. Such is the nature of the beast.
Now that I’m a few months into this process (and my journey thus far has been a tad different from many other querying writers, which I may explain to you someday…or I may not. It depends on how my story plays out. Suffice it to say, right now, I’m doing a lot more waiting and a lot less active querying), I’ve learned to calm down a bit. I don’t think so much about the things I have no control over. I can’t control whether an agent likes my book, or whether they think there is a market for it. All I can do is send my best work into the world, and hope someone loves my story as much as I do.
And meanwhile — and here’s where I get philosophical — be content. Because if I let the waiting and the agent (and later, the book deal and the book release and the sequel and the movie and on and on to infinity) become The Thing That Matters, that’s going to be a problem. Not only because I don’t know if I will achieve any of those things, but because none of that gives me any enjoyment or fulfillment right now. And now is the time I have to live in. (Unless someone wants to drop by in a TARDIS.)
Here’s the thing. None of my future goals are guaranteed. Heck, the future itself is not guaranteed. I could be hit by a bus later today, or struck by lightning tomorrow, or abducted by aliens next week. That doesn’t mean I need to hunker down and await my inevitable demise. That’s the Crazy talking. I still need to live my life with a purpose and work toward my goals.
But I also need to be able to be content with where I am, now. At peace. I need to live my days as if they have value in and of themselves, and not merely as a piece of a greater, as-of-yet unrealized Future Goal.
Because I hear — tell me if I’m wrong — that the waiting never stops. Never. So we’d best learn how to deal with it.
Taking a page from Court, I’m going to list a few things I’m thankful for, right now, today, that writing has given me, even if I never get an agent or sell a book. These are the reasons I’m grateful to be doing what I’m doing. These are the reasons that, regardless of what happens with my publishing career (or lack thereof), writing has been, and will continue to be, worth it. And these are the things that I can enjoy, no matter how long the waiting takes.
- I have sitting on my bookshelf, right now at this very moment, four ARCs of friends’ books coming out in the next few months. FOUR. And even more book launches for friends on my calendar. I can’t begin to express how happy I am for them.
- Speaking of book launches, I live in a city that has fabulous book events all the time. Friends’ events aside, there are a bunch of book and author events coming up locally in the next few months that I am ridiculously excited to attend. In my experience, book people rock.
- There’s a book coming out next week with my name in the acknowledgements. It’ll be the first time that’s happened for me. You have no idea how happy this makes me. A friend once told me that having your name on a spine is great, but what matters most to her is how many acknowledgements she appears in. I think she’s right. Life is more joyful when you can sincerely celebrate the achievements of others with as much enthusiasm as your own.
- I’ve spent the majority of the past four days with various people I met through writing, but who are now some of my dearest friends. Books and words were discussed, but we also went to restaurants, drank margaritas, watched action movies, stood in line for ice cream in the rain, went shoe shopping, and talked about everything from So You Think You Can Dance to German U-boats (okay, those two conversations might have happened simultaneously). These are my people. I have no idea how I functioned before I knew them.
- In the past couple weeks, two of my friends have signed with wonderful agents. I can’t wait to see their hard work turned into books on shelves.
- I’ve written an entire book. A book I love. Whether or not it ever sees the light of day, I can be proud of that.
- I’m working on two others, and have ideas for many more. In the past year, I’ve discovered a love of writing I never knew I possessed. I’m so thankful to have learned that about myself.
- I’m running a half marathon in twelve weeks (?!?!) for the first time in my life, because a writer friend talked me into it. I’m not entirely convinced that I won’t live to regret this, but I can say that I can now run further than I ever have in my life. It’s not 13.1 miles (yet), but just training is an accomplishment.
- I’m attending the SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference in September, and I will know tons of people. Last year I just attended the mixer, and I only knew a couple people. What a difference a year makes.
- I’m traveling to Charleston, SC in November with four writer friends to attend YALLFest. Again, these are all people I either hadn’t met or barely knew a year ago, and now we’re going to cram five of us in a hotel room for three nights so we can attend a weekend full of YA book goodness.
So there you go. My thoughts on waiting and contentment, and how contentment makes the waiting easier.
Do I still compulsively check email or Twitter stalk? Very possibly. Would I be over the moon thrilled if my dream agent were to call me tomorrow and offer representation? You betcha. Do I still dream of one day walking into a bookstore and finding my name on a spine (or several)? Absolutely. And I will keep working toward that goal, for as long as writing brings me joy (which I imagine being the foreseeable future).
But in the meantime, I can take happiness in the journey. Not just in the writing itself — which is a gift — but also the people, the opportunities, and the experiences it’s given to me. And if you’re waiting, and struggling (as one does), I hope that you too can find contentment in the present. To be excited for what’s to come, but also to take joy in the now.
Thus endeth my philosophical musings for today.
EDIT: A few (wonderful) friends in the comments and via various other methods of communication have felt the need to encourage me after reading this post with some version of “And don’t worry, I know it feels like it’s taking a long time, but I’m sure you will get there!” To you, friends, I first say, thank you. Your confidence in me is bolstering and inspiring, and I am in constant awe of the utter fabulousness of your friendship and this community I’m so blessed to be a part of. I appreciate you.
But also, I just wanted to clear up, in case it is somehow unclear: this post is not intended as a lament that I have not yet achieved my goals. I’m not in despair, or even moderate discouragement. I’m actually really, really good with the whole waiting thing (obviously I have my days of WHY WAITING WHYYYYY, but fortunately, those are few and far between. And not today). I just thought it may help some people — or maybe just me — to have a post about what waiting feels like, written by someone who is still in the midst of waiting and has no promise to ever emerge victorious on the other side. Most posts (that I’ve read) that talk about waiting are written from the finish line. I wanted to write one from heart of the race.
It doesn’t mean I think I won’t, someday, reach the finish line (of course, then there’s another finish line after that, and one after that, and one after that…). Just that I know it’s not guaranteed. And that I can still be okay with the waiting, no matter what happens, because there are still things to be grateful for in the now.