It Takes as Long as it Takes: On Waiting

waitingOnce upon a time, when I was a young twenty-something server at a restaurant just outside of Boston, my manager called me into his office.

“Amy,” he said solemnly. “I need to tell you something. You’re not the stronger waiter.”

“Um, I’m not a waiter,” I corrected him. “I’m a waitress.”

Looking back, however, if we were to interpret my manager’s remark literally, the guy was spot on.

I’m a horrible wait-er. The worst.

This is a difficult attribute to have as a writer, not to mention a neurotic writer with shaky self-esteem, whose world pretty much revolves around receiving  that email announcing “About your Submission.”

Often, to coin a cliché, the waiting feels like an eternity. It doesn’t help that I check my inbox and my mail box incessantly. I miss the days before my i-Phone, a device that makes the waiting game much worse, as now I take my neurosis on the road.

And let’s face it: Sometimes we never hear back from an editor. Sometimes our queries or our submissions fall into the literary black hole. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take rejection over not being unacknowledged any day. I once got a very kind email from an editor at McSweeneys, only it was two years after I’d sent in my submission. It was a rejection, with an apology for taking so long, and I immediately emailed the editor back, thanking him for having the courtesy to simply respond, despite the late reply. I wanted to hug the guy for simply acknowledging me.

We all know editors are busy people. But sometimes reminding ourselves of this is not enough to quell the self-defeating mantras that go through one’s head while  waiting. So what else can we poor writers do?

In an effort to make life more bearable for myself and my fellow authors, I decided to do some research on how to be a better wait-er. I read a couple of books on cultivating patience. Then I put my query up on HARO, which stands for “Help a Reporter Out.” If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a great, free resource for finding expert advice for articles, or doing research for your next novel. I typed up a brief email asking for advice on how to be a better wait-er, and then waited for the wisdom to come pouring in.

I waited.

And waited.

When two weeks went by and I didn’t get any responses, I was convinced that my query was so stupid and worthless that no one wanted to answer it. What I had forgotten was that I had given my deadline as April 1st. Two days before that deadline, my inbox was nearly overwhelmed with responses, the highlights of which I share with you now:

The Tapping Cure.* According to Robin Temes, PhD, who has a book called The Tapping Cure, try this: “At the time that you are feeling very stressed you identify what is stressing you – e.g. I haven’t yet heard from the editor. Then you create a sentence with that as the middle. The beginning is simply the two words, Even though, and the ending is a phrase such as, I accept myself or I am okay, anyway. While reciting that sentence three times during a stressful moment you simultaneously tap on your collarbone – a significant acupressure point. Your sentence no longer distresses you; you are no longer are upset!”

*I have yet to try this, as I have an overwhelming fear of tapping myself, however if you try it and it works, please let me know.

Stop the Stinking Thinking. The basic gist here is to become aware of your negative thoughts, and turn them into positive thoughts. This one came from Lori Barr, MD, founder of www.MindTamers.com. So let’s say you automatically think, “I haven’t heard back from this magazine and it’s been four months. My piece must suck.” Become aware of that thought, and negate it with, “Wait a minute, with that other piece it took six months for a response. Maybe it’s so good they can’t decide.”  Get the idea? We can’t control how long it takes for an editor to respond, but we can control our thoughts.

Or simply recall Stuart Smalley’s advice. Look in the mirror and repeat to yourself, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And all editors like me.”

Become a Taoist Monk. Enough said.

Do Something Else. This was the most frequent piece of advice offered. Instead of waiting for responses, get busy with your next writing-related project. Read a book (on patience, perhaps?), write an essay or simply free write in your journal. Workshops are good distractions too. In my experience, the most magical, surprising moments (Getting my first piece published in a literary magazine, for instance) happened when I wasn’t watching the pot, but living my life. The point is: Don’t lose sight of the fact that you write because you love writing, and not just publishing. Publication is great – it strokes the ego. But writing strokes the soul.

I recently hung a sign up over my writing desk – a small piece of advice gleaned from one of those books on patience that I read. It says:

“It Takes as Long as it Takes.”

A good, daily reminder.

Waiting in a Taoist monk-like calm for your comments,

Amy

 

This post, in a slightly modified form, originally appeared on Grub Street’s Daily Blog.


2 Responses to “It Takes as Long as it Takes: On Waiting”

  1. Faye Snider

    I thoroughly enjoyed your serious and fun exploration of the writer’s waiting challenge. I have tried the tapping on collarbone method for other issues. It is helpful in clearing energy; and for writers, it releases the obsessive mind games to focus on the body. If I remember to tap, I experience a shift in energy, allowing me to gather and refocus. This is a great subject; thanks for weighing in on it. In theory, we need to send and move on. In fact, we are social creatures and depend mightily on feedback in our conversations and narrative efforts. Ready to send!

  2. Genia Blum

    No need to wait longer for a comment. This is an entertaining read, and spot on!