The Unbearable Lightness of Waiting

Photo by Alice Popkorn (Flickr)
Photo by Alice Popkorn (Flickr)

While waiting is not unique to publishing, Lord knows there are thousands of opportunities for waiting in this industry. Hurry up and wait is practically our motto. Waiting on agents, waiting on editors, waiting on editorial letters, waiting on illustrators and reviews and advance checks and royalty statements.

Waiting on that first initial yes.

But it turns out, publishing’s got nothing on hospitals. In the last few days, I’ve had occasion to spend far more time in hospital waiting rooms than I would like. Recently, my 81 year old father was diagnosed with a rare, cancerous tumor that had wrapped itself around his heart. Fortunately, he is in excellent shape and was therefore a good candidate for the required grueling surgery.

At the hospital, as we waited on the surgery which ended up being delayed by five hours, the eager need to get on with it diminished and instead I became hyper aware of how precious each extra moment was. He was awake and lucid and all his future pain and rehabilitation were held at bay. Each of those extra moments was a gift, one I found I was not eager to part with.

And then, as the two hour surgery dragged in to three hours, four, six, I again found myself taking great comfort in each moment, as each was a moment with no bad news. It was the existential equivalent of Schrodinger’s Cat. Until the box is opened, hope still exists.

For that is the truth of it: waiting holds not only hope and promise, but also disaster and tragedy forestalled, even if only for a little longer. We can cheat death  or disappointment one more hour, or cling to our hopes and dreams for a few minutes more.

Waiting is something we endure, white knuckle our way through or, at the very least, something we want to distract ourselves from. But maybe, instead, we should view it differently.

The wait prior to publication of Grave Mercy was interminable. I was so eager to share it with readers, invite them into the world I’d created, and hoped that we would connect. I was nearly squirming in my seat with anticipation and the months dragged by.

The wait for Dark Triumph’s publication was very different. The weight of expectations from the first book definitely altered this pre-publication period. I was much more anxious this time, afraid how a second book so very different from the first would be received.

But now, I find this pre-publication period for the third book, Mortal Heart, has morphed yet again. Or perhaps it is simply that my recent stint at the hospital has given me an entirely new relationship with waiting.

With the book turned in but not yet out in the world, I find I have time to appreciate my accomplishment. I have taken care of everything I am in control of—written the best possible book I was capable of in this moment in time. I fought with it, wrestled with the characters and themes, and poured my heart and soul into it.

In short, my work with that story is done.

I feel surprisingly light and unencumbered.

The feeling of accomplishment, of personal satisfaction and completion is one I am unfamiliar with, as I have not allowed myself to pause and linger in these moments nearly enough over the course of my career. But now, I find I am enjoying it immensely.

There are no reviews, no judgments, or disappointment and I have a newfound appreciation for these unencumbered moments of my life.

It feels like that short period of time when the crops in the field are rich and ripe, waiting for the imminent harvest, but in that moment before they are gathered they are simply there, existing as a testament to nature’s bounty and gifts.

So too does this current pre-publication wait feel—a testament to the simple satisfaction of having created something.

There is an incredible freeness to living in the moment. To focusing only on the here and now and what is knowable and certain. On just being, whether that means being a writer who has finished a book or simply being present for someone else.

I now think that waiting is, in fact, its own unique kind of gift. A gift that forces us to live in each crystalline moment, even as we frantically wish the waiting was over. So instead of fretting over the manuscripts out on submission, or worrying whether or not we’ll hear back from that agent we met at the conference, or what our editor or beta readers think about our current revision, let us allow ourselves to enjoy what we know in that moment: that we finished writing a book, that we connected on some level with an industry professional, that we are reaching out to make our work stronger. Let us strive to celebrate the gift that each moment brings—even the waiting ones—for they are precious, even if we don’t yet realize it.

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About Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers is the author of fourteen books for young readers, including the Theodosia and Nathaniel Fludd series. Her most recent book, GRAVE MERCY, is a young adult romance about assassin nuns in medieval France. A lifelong introvert, she currently lives on a blissfully quiet hill in Southern California.

Comments

  1. says

    Robin, I esp. liked your point about waiting = hope. It is so true! Thank you for a beautiful essay. Prayers for your father.

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  2. says

    What a gorgeous post, Robin. I’ve felt these feelings but never come close to articulating it all in such an on-target, perfect way. Thanks for sharing this!

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  3. Denise Willson says

    Great post, Robin. I usually have too much going on to feel like I’m waiting, but I can relate to the anxiety.

    Sorry to hear about your father. I hope he’s feeling better.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT

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  4. says

    Well this post is certainly different than my WU post on waiting. Shows how much more worldly and wise you are. I am reminded of what our wise craft-guru colleague, Don Maass, pointed out to me after my somewhat more anxious post: “Writing and waiting actually are the same. We’re reaching out a hand in the darkness, aching to feel the warmth of another hand grasping ours. We want to know we’re not alone.” He also pointed out that I am not alone, because I come here, to WU. And he’s right.

    Thanks for this soothing and encouraging read. A great reminder to live in the moment. Best wishes to your father!

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  5. says

    This applies to most aspects of our lives. We’re in such a hurry to get to the next big moment that we miss all that the here and now. We’re like children living from one Christmas to the next. I’ve been waiting on my first published book for years. It was only recently that I realized how much I love the process leading up to it. Thanks for the post. My prayers are with you and your father.

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  6. says

    Wonderful, thoughtful post as usual, Robin! I’m so sorry to hear about your father – I’m sending you and your family the very best healing thoughts!

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  7. says

    One week ago today, I posted this VERY subject on Facebook: “WAITING! So much of a writer’s life is spent this way: waiting for that agent to say they want to represent your novel, waiting on that editor to say they want to buy your magazine article. I’m so X#@% tired of waiting!”

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  8. says

    Robin–
    I know what you mean when you speak of moments of pleasurable suspension between past and future. I suppose it’s a mental state analogous to weightlessness in space. And I wholeheartedly agree with you when you relate waiting in times of crisis or tension to hope.
    But waiting/hope can also be an enemy for writers. I am thinking in particular of dealings with agents. The unrepresented writer who all at once gets the nod from an agent is suddenly granted the hope-filled experience of waiting for good news. But at some point, the newly-represented writer must resist the many rationalizations that step between him/her and common sense: the agent is no longer bothering to stay in contact, or pass along the latest news, whether good or bad. The tone of communication has changed; now, the agent seems preoccupied and too busy.
    I know you’re talking about something pleasurable, but as WU’s resident curmudgeon, I felt the need to offer a caveat. Make no mistake, though: I enjoyed your post a lot, and admire the writing.

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  9. says

    Very well written. I hope your dad is on the mend. I’m dealing with a lot of waiting myself, but I am not there to do the waiting with my family. Instead, I am 500 miles away, facing long days and sleepless nights alone while everyone tells me not to worry. My mother has banned me from coming home, citing money and there being nothing I can do to help her as logical reasons. So instead, I wait and worry and wonder. I dread when my phone rings or buzzes with a text for fear it will be bad news.

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  10. says

    It seems I constantly need to be reminded, not just in terms of writing, of course, to appreciate the moment I’m in — even driving from one place to another. Thank you for your reassuring and eloquent reminder. And best wishes for your father.

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  11. Katherine says

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Robin. These words are a balm, and were exactly what I needed to hear today.

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  12. says

    Thank you for a wonderful start to Friday, Robin.

    I’m glad to hear your father’s health has made recovery possible and wish him the best, but you certainly make a good point about waiting when there is so much at stake – Schrödinger’s cat indeed.

    I used to hate waiting (taking about writing now), but then I decided I needed an attitude change. There’s no use getting worked up over what you can’t control. As you put it, we can only focus on doing our best and trusting that it will make a difference when we are waiting for what comes next. What matters is that well continue to do that, and use every input to improve. Instead of waiting during those darker times, use it to do something else just as meaningful. Right now I’m waiting for hear back from an editor on a recent round of revisions – so while I wait I’ve decided to draw maps and read more to hone my craft.

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    • says

      So sorry to leave that up in the air! He is doing very well, all things considered. It will be a long, slow slog back to where he was, but he is up to the challenge!

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  13. says

    This is so timely for me, Robin. I just turned a novel over to my agent. Not the first one I’ve written, but the first to arrive at a place where I felt, as you so eloquently stated, that I’d done my best for now. For the first week I had a house to clean, friends to inform that I had not left the country, and family to catch up with. But after the flurry of all that passed, I sensed the anxiety creeping in. Your words today remind me of that wonderful space where the piano has not yet fallen, the other shoe hasn’t dropped. Even grand news can change one’s life. So savoring the ‘space before’ is a marvelous practice. Thanks for this wonderful reminder. I hope all goes well with your father.

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  14. says

    Robin, nicely done. I’ve been a frustrated fidgeter through so many phases—”When will I finish this degree? Will it ever be five o’clock? Why hasn’t the bartender glanced at me?—but I’ve finally eased up, and am better able to see the value of those “down-time” periods that turn out to not be downtime at all.

    Sometimes the fifteen minutes you wait at a bus stop is the perfect interlude to study a street scene to store for your next story. Sometimes the fifteen hours you wait for the washer repair person is the perfect amount of time to research and repair the ding-dang thing yourself. (Your mileage may vary here.) Sometimes the 15 months you wait to hear from an agent is—well, that’s just annoying isn’t it? But why wait? Move on to more writing, other agents.

    Hope your father is well on the mend.

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  15. says

    Robin-

    The agony of waiting has been the undoing of too many writers. It’s heartbreaking. I see it in the anxious e-mails from clients and would-be clients alike.

    I also see it reflected on their pages, and that’s the most heartbreaking part of all.

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  16. says

    Beautiful, thought-provoking post as always, Robin, thank you! And then you left us with a cliff-hanger! Hope the surgery was successful and Dad is home recuperating well. Sending good thoughts and blessings to you and your father and the entire family. xo

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    • says

      Sorry, Kim! Clearly I am used to writing trilogies rather than standalones. :-)

      He is doing much, much better and on the mend. He has some tough rehab ahead of him, but his prognosis is good.

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  17. says

    Obviously, you didn’t have to wait long to hear how your essay created a spark within this forum! Thanks for posting it.

    And here comes good juju for your dad through the Cyber waves!!!

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  18. says

    Great post, thank you for sharing.

    Waiting to me, is like falling. The time after you already leaped off the edge and before you plunge into the water, you are in the mercy of the time.

    I have never been patient person, but that changed when I started to write. The waiting and patience didn’t come easily. With time and experience priorities changed and now its not about how quickly I get a response, it’s all about what it contains.

    I gladly wait for the good news over getting bad news fast.

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  19. Priya Gill says

    Lovely post. Waiting is hard, but a very important part of true growth.

    Your post reminded me of a quote from Kung Fu Panda. The past is history, the future a mystery. But today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present. Thanks for reminding us to stay in the moment and making the best of each moment.

    Hope your dad is better and the surgery was a huge success.

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  20. says

    Robin, what great inspiration. Thank you. While my agent is circulating the first mss. I submitted to her, I just send her another mss. I’m taking a wee bit of time off before jumping back into my work (I emphasize the wee because like any other writer, I’m having withdrawal from not writing; love the process of putting words onto a page) and have found myself relaxing for the first time in this waiting zone. I couldn’t figure out why until I just read your uplifting words.

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  21. says

    That’s an interesting take on waiting. It is indeed goodness, or badness, forestalled.

    But man I hate that about this business.

    I can take the weeks it takes for magazine editors to get back to me. If I’m not working on so many things that I realize the minutes and days that are passing, then that’s on me.

    But when weeks turn to months, and months turn to many months–even up to a year or more–before an agent gets back to you, that I have a hard time taking. Brutal. I’m not saying it’s avoidable, just that it’s brutal. Waiting nine or ten months for a No–or, even worse, for no response at all–can be seriously deflating.

    Nothing to do but to keep writing and move on and send it out again, but it can suck out your soul sometimes.

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