I want to talk today about waiting, and not just because I’m yet again standing on the shore of A Long Wait. (Okay, partially because I’m standing on the shore of A Long Wait.) Over a decade plus, I’ve found that waiting is a staple of writing. It’s inherent in almost every phase of the process, and it’s unavoidable. The most prolific, confident writer in the world must still learn to wait. In fact, it might be harder for the busiest to accept that productivity doesn’t necessarily affect waiting.
We wait for inspiration to strike. For our idea to blossom into a book. For the right time. For courage. For our WIP to “sit” before we revise. For our beta readers and critique partners to do their thing and send us feedback. And again. When we query agents, get manuscript requests, revise and resubmit. When we go on submission. When we sell a project. To get the contract. To announce. To see the cover, or illustrations. To get paid. Or to get formatting, for stores to upload our publications. To see our publication hit listings. For ARC reviews. For release day. For reader reviews. To see if we made the lists. To find out if we’ve been nominated for any awards, and then again if we’ve won. For that next idea. For a second book contract, and a third…
I’m certainly not claiming to be the waiting master, but I have figured out some tactics that have helped me weather the wait better. If they work for me, maybe some of them will work for some of you, too. (And if you’re at the shore of A Long Wait or two yourself, chances are you have the time to test them out.)
Learn to Sit
I’m going to open with the most difficult – and most important – advice I have in regard to waiting. You need to learn to sit with the discomfort. This might sound contrary to all of the advice you’ve heard about it. (Work on your next project, keep yourself busy, etc., and we’ll get to those.) But I think it’s the most fundamental element to maintaining mental health in what’s generally a high-anxiety practice. No matter how good you are at the other techniques, if what’s simmering behind them is an unsupportable level of angst or discomfort, then you’re going to break down over time.
We don’t want to break down eventually. It seems very obvious, but how many of us head straight in that direction? I think that’s often because we tell ourselves, “If I can just…” and assume that after that ‘just’ comes a better, more comfortable place to be. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that that’s rarely the case. Usually the thing after that ‘just’ is equally hard or harder. So you can’t tough it out through the current wait and expect to be fine after. You really have to learn to wait right so that you aren’t toughing it out at all, but rather living sustainably within this life.
The first step to doing this, I believe, is learning to be okay with being uncomfortable, nervous, stressed, anxious, miserable, or otherwise in limbo. Odd, right? How can we be okay with something inherently negative? We’re taught to avoid the negative, which is generally smart, except that sometimes – like waiting for writers – the negative is unavoidable. So when we try to avoid something that’s there no matter what, we end up simply not addressing it instead. No good.
How do you learn to sit with discomfort? Try this if you want: Pinch your arm really hard. I’m not kidding. (Don’t do this if you don’t want to, obviously, but it teaches the lesson quite well. Physical pain and emotional pain aren’t all that different.) Do it harder than you think you need to, and then when you think that’s all you can bear, squeeze and twist a little more. Our instinct is to gasp and let go, rub the spot, right? Avoid. But what’s the worst that can happen from a pinch – even a really hard one? A bruise, probably. So what? Bruises heal.
Hold that pinch. Use your judgement here, but try to challenge yourself. Hold it harder and longer than you want to, and don’t try to think about something else or distract yourself in any way. Don’t just ‘tough it out.’ Focus in on the pain until your brain stops panicking. Realize that nothing happens even though it hurts. Sit a little longer with that. Nothing happens even though it hurts. It’s okay.
It’s exactly the same with waiting (and rejection, and doubt…). The next time you’re overwhelmed by it, don’t immediately run from it or try to shove it down. Sit with it. Go somewhere quiet you can be alone and just sit with the feeling for a while. It’s okay if you cry or get mad or whatever. That’s normal. Just sit there with the discomfort until it’s not quite so scary. Now you’re ready for the other tactics.