Waiting

On Wednesday I asked the students in my class to describe what they’d been doing earlier in the day, before our afternoon session began. While they scribbled I wrote alongside them, producing a dull summary of actions and toil—until I came to waiting

There is always waiting. It begins in the still-dark morning when my dog barks at a sound I can’t hear. I wait for R. to get out of bed and take her outside so I can go back to sleep. But really so I can go back to waiting.

If you want to write, there’s no way around waiting. Over waiting the writer has no control. Oh, I’m in charge in the sense that I can follow a routine known to be helpful to the production of words. Keep to a schedule is one common suggestion. But there is mystery in writing. Who can say why one day, seated before my screen at seven in the morning, nothing but verbal clutter comes, and the next day, seated at seven, I put together words that have never before been arranged in just that way. Both days are born out of me and my life, and yet I don’t have control over them. I can only put myself in a position from which something good may come. And then I wait.

If you’re a writer, there is always waiting. Send off a submission and bide your time until the results come in. I used to print out my work, meticulously compose a cover letter, prepare my SASE with a stamp that seemed right for the occasion, slide it into a larger envelope so there were no creases, take the assembled whole to the post office, and hand it to the clerk, all with the seriousness of great expectations. A deliberate and time-consuming process. After counting a few days for transit in each direction, I began to wait for an answer in the mail, which meant attending on each afternoon’s delivery. Each day the truck with little tires would make its stop at the end of my driveway. There was something deliberate about walking out to the mailbox, pulling out the envelopes, magazines, and catalogs, flipping through to see if an editor had replied. Most often there was nothing, each day a little death. (How many jokes did Shakespeare make about that? “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes.”) And then the rebirth of waiting, until at last rejection or acceptance came, sometimes signed with a real signature. Sometimes there were real words on the sheet of paper, written by pen and hand. The verdict had heft, a weight that matched the seriousness of the waiting.

Nowadays submissions are handled by Submittable, that anonymous and efficient online service. I log into my account and upload my essay, maybe pay a fee, and my process is done. I still wait, but the waiting is not the same. It has no cycle, no order determined by the earth’s rotation. Waiting is a continuous hum of the nerves that can continue for months or even years, as if one were a hunger artist.

Or there can be no waiting at all. I once submitted online to a journal and was rejected twenty minutes later. I uploaded my essay at 7:30 p.m. and by 7:50 p.m. had been repelled without comment. I shot off an aggrieved message to the editor, doubting that anyone could evaluate an eighteen-page essay in so short a time, certainly not with care. The editor replied that she had given my essay every consideration.

So there are things worse than waiting. One must be patient, I tell myself. Worrying won’t hurry the process along, and the outcome, or verdict as I prefer to think of it, is more likely a resounding no than a joyful yes. I think of myself as a defendant standing in the courtroom, listening for the jury’s decision. Whether the verdict is a yes or no, I have no power to direct its course. Someone else has presented my case, and I must remain silent and stoic. That’s why they call it a submission—you submit to another person’s power. Depending on the verdict, I will either turn and embrace my supporters, if there are any, or be led from the courtroom and back to my cell.

Some mornings I feel sure a no is barreling toward me to lodge in my inbox. Perhaps it was delivered overnight while I slept and is now coyly poised to spring at my unprotected eyes. Sometimes, unsuspecting, I innocently open my email, but sometimes I sense, like a barking dog, that something troubling watches me, even though I can’t see it.

Some people are crestfallen when the cake comes out heavy or the pizza slides off the stone or the zipper won’t zip, but those failures stun me little. They roll off because I have invested nothing in them to begin with. But writing is another matter. To write is to give with all of myself, to feel that what I am doing matters, even if the subject is small, invisible, unmoving. Writing is entire. And so I react with the entire self when word comes back from the world.

I crave nightfall, the end of the day, when waiting is over, and I am wrapped in the fur of dogs, the touch of love, and sleep. Waiting is the condition of our birth, our waking, what we’re born into, this lovesickness or homesickness, the lump in our throats that will only clear when we can wait no more.

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98 Comments on “Waiting”

  1. This is beautiful. Thank you. I have been missing the snail mail rejection… where I could wait just a little longer, quietly opening the envelope for a “no.” As the e-mail box fills with “no”, it feels fast and furious. More toss-off than deliberation. I’m about to suggest that one reason I love tubes of fur is because dogs do not say, “no.” But I have a dachshund, and she likes to put on the brakes. YES: “Writing is entire. And so I react with the entire self when word comes back from the world.”

  2. clarkgrachel1 says:

    Sorry, it’s. http://Www.rclark.com

  3. I truly think this is my favorite post I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

  4. Jan Wilberg says:

    I like your mention of the routine of writing and the puzzlement that one day the routine yields nothing but dreck and the next it’s as if the angels themselves are lifting your fingers. To me, it’s only when I let the automatic writing go but if I’m outside shoveling snow or watching reruns of Downton Abbey, I won’t be where the angels can find me. That’s the way I look at it. The submission process – I never expect anything but have been very pleasantly surprised a couple of times. Low expectations are key.

  5. This was great, loved it!

  6. Ana says:

    The sweetest torture of waiting is so well described here. My favorite part is: “Writing is entire. And so I react with the entire self when word comes back from the world.”
    I will remember it next time I am waiting, for sure. Thank you.

  7. Congratulations on… (wait for it………….) being, Freshly Pressed. Nice post.

  8. Jasmine M says:

    Reblogged this on The Eclectic Chick and commented:
    I’m lucky, in that I’m pretty good at waiting for long-term stuff. It’s probably because my mind is so chaotic, and I’m always finding other things to focus on and worry about. Plus, sometimes I’ll even forget I was waiting for something!

    Oddly enough, though, it’s actually shorter waits that are harder for me; when something is weeks or months away, I can relax…but when it’s hours or days away, time can’t seem to pass quickly enough – – and of course, if it’s something big, I find myself sometimes panicking and wishing I had more time left to prepare once it finally does get close! Issues or questions will pop into my head at the last minute – – ones that never occurred to me during all that time I spent waiting. Ha, I wish I could figure out how not to sucker-punch myself like that!

  9. Rae says:

    Sometimes I think the anticipation is better than the knowing or experiencing. I always remember as a kid, after going on my first trip to Disneyland and coming home, it wasn’t being back at Disneyland I wished for, it was those few days before arriving, knowing something good was about to happen, which is also probably why I love Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. Not knowing is hard, but it’s also kind of a magical time where both realities are both equally possible.

  10. jackswift83 says:

    Great post, thanks. Now I don’t feel so bad about all those 90% finished drafts on my WP dashboard just waiting for the 7am morning moment when the right words come to finish it off just right.

  11. Jasmine Pope says:

    I enjoyed your explanation on the origin of “submit.” As for waiting, without that anticipation the event would loose some value. It appears our only cure is patience. Thanks for the thought.

  12. jwicks123 says:

    I absolutely love your blog. Especially the last paragraph which to me, sounded a little like poetry.

  13. I really needed to see this. I entered a competition a while ago and just found out a couple hours earlier that my submission didn’t place. The months I’d spent waiting anxiously for results were so unbearable–even more so when I realized it had all been for naught. I felt disappointed in myself for feeling so miserable, for building my hopes up so high, but really, things could be worse.
    I can’t believe someone rejected your entry twenty minutes after you submitted it! I may not understand the situation, but that just doesn’t seem right.
    Thank you for posting this.

  14. I think I felt whole body indignation for you for the twenty minute rejection!

  15. Catnip says:

    This is beautiful, and your description at the end about waiting adds a nice layer of eloquence as well. It’s nice sometimes to stop arguing over and analyzing the universe and just indulge in its beauty of what is… of thing we cannot change.

    • hector1943 says:

      How very true ( indulge in the beauty——-things we cannot change ). I recently replied to a comment from a lady concerning religion.’ Have you not thought of just living’ Why must we worry ourselves about issues over which we have no control

      • Catnip says:

        We can change the course of things. We are human with a soul and to that beginning we were given a brain with enormous capacity. To plan, organise and execute. Most of us only use less than a third. Believe me Plain living is merely existing. It’s suffocating I need more than just air to breath. I want to love hard, explore more, travel everywhere, with my love. To me that’s living.

  16. thenjuvi says:

    Reblogged this on Queen-V.

  17. jennyshiqu says:

    I love i love i love

  18. Chris White says:

    Hello. A grand post. Waiting can be sheer torture. Never wait for rejection as it won’t wait for you. A routine is the answer for me. Those bloody rejection slips … so polite. Stephen King papered his walls with them. All the best. Kris.

    http://awritersden.wordpress.com

  19. johnberk says:

    Beautiful words. I agree with you that waiting is almost our primary work to do. We are waiting and waiting, almost endlessly. Our life sometimes feels like a neverending spiral staircase, in which we are trapped by an illusion of actually living.

  20. I love your writing, its fresh and real

  21. Nice to reading 🙂 🙂

  22. seweverythingblog says:

    I’ve learned to expect a “no” (after several “no’s) until a pleasant surprise of “yes” shows up. That’s one way of playing the waiting game. And I’m not even as prolific a writer as I want to be. Thank you for a thoughtful post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  23. Magdalena says:

    Beautifully written piece!

  24. gicelherrera says:

    Reblogged this on gicelherrera and commented:
    You have left me speechless!

  25. pastorwilf says:

    Only a true writer could explain this experience. Thank you!!

  26. Reading your thoughts about being born into waiting made me think about those early months of a baby’s life. How hungry and impatient a newborn can be. First few weeks: yowls to express discomfort of some kind … and magic, finds its needs are met — often and quickly. Then: a magic period between about 3 and 4 months where bub is happy to watch the world, isn’t even aware that it’s waiting most of the time. Then: sometime around six months, they realise they don’t have to wait … they can make some action happen. And then we seem to spend the rest of their childhood and then our own adulthoods learning how to handle … waiting.

  27. RJ says:

    this is really beautiful.. and yup there’s no point of waiting for right time..each moment is right ..

  28. jmpod says:

    An essential act in everyone’s life that seems without purpose…nicely done.

  29. shinaj1 says:

    I am so with you on this post. Waiting can be the worse torture in the world but it’s funny because if you’re miserably waiting on something, the moment you find out there’s good news you completely disregard the torture you previously felt. Just like being in labor and succumbing to the worst pain in the world, once you see the baby you will literally say–oh it was all worth it. 😀

  30. Surely as they say on each website, Submittable makes the job easier for the editors. And for us writers too indeed in many ways.
    However somehow I always felt that something was amiss and today you pointed it out.
    Thank for sharing this.

  31. Mandy says:

    Great job for this article 🙂

  32. Reminds me of a military favorite phrase, “Hurry up and wait.” I, too, feel like I’m always waiting. Even in this civilian life I lead.

  33. wakweika says:

    Great post. Enjoyed reading it

  34. Demetrius says:

    I really love how you entail the details of waiting, and I must say I had a wonderful time reading this! Learnt a little and I am glad to have been able to chance upon this.

  35. rafeeqcariem says:

    Love this!! Look forward to reading some more of your posts!

  36. I get my pleasure to reading this article. Thanks for sharing.

  37. twaldron2014 says:

    A really nice piece. I only consider myself a writer because I started a blog in March of 2014 and have worked away at it pretty consistently, but haven’t progressed to the idea of publication. However, I was captured by the idea of the role of waiting (since generally it is something I HATE to do. And yet the way you described it, I started to see how it played out in other ways than the kind of waiting one does in the line at Starbucks or at the local DMV. I also taught high school for 36 years so I felt I had to wait a very long time to have time to think and write.

  38. Reblogged this on mycrimsontruth and commented:
    This had me from the beginning. What a true honest piece of the feelings of being a writer. I recommend the read.

  39. Cameron says:

    I liked your post. It kind of shows me what I have to look forward to. I have always loved writing and am now starting to take it more seriously. I would love to take a creative writing course. I think it would help me write the book I’ve always wanted to. If you have a minute, check out my blog at thementalmom.com. I plan on talking about my writing on it. If you have any suggestions for me I’d love to hear them!

  40. Hannah says:

    Reblogged this on The city of adventure and commented:
    This can be true about so many of us. Those moments of anticipation, of not knowing, of waiting.
    I have wonderful friends and family who have continued writing real letters to me, wherever I am. It seems to me that the time spent travelling the globe fills the paper with more than just the words physically written there. Writing a response is more fun, imagining a reaction at some unknown, surprise moment.
    I really enjoyed this post, and the memories it brought back for me.

  41. mhrain says:

    Reblogged this on mhrain.

  42. Donna says:

    I loved the ritual of taking a manuscript to the Post Office to be weighed and stamped. The whole process, the effort of putting the package together, had a certain gravitas. It’s just not the same now the process is electronic. I remember picking up the return envelopes and testing their weight in my hand. If it was light, the manuscript was still with an editor and the envelope contained an acceptance letter. A heavy envelope wasn’t such good news!

  43. wjt87 says:

    A very nice piece to read !

  44. matt says:

    Beautiful description and expression of the idea of waiting when you are fully invested in the object of your submission. Thank you.

  45. sparkyplants says:

    Great post. When I write in the early mornings, my Golden Retriever wraps himself around my feet. It is such a great feeling, me, my computer, the darkness of the early morning and my best buddy (and hopefully some well-chosen words).

  46. Kriti says:

    Well , I’m new in here. And this is the first piece of writing I chose to read and I really loved it. Great post I must say. The sweet torture of waiting.

  47. sparkyandson says:

    This is really quite insightful, I always thought I wanted to be a writer in some form, but I never managed to follow through with the creative courses I signed up for. Quite clearly I don’t have the temperament to be able to follow through, and from reading this I know for a fact that I would become demoralised all too easily.
    In fact the closest I’ve ever come was getting on to WordPress and starting my own blog ( about 2 days ago ).

  48. sparkyandson says:

    Reblogged this on Sparky And Son and commented:
    very insightful

  49. hiccup says:

    The metaphor of writing…and waiting really hit me as I read, and my thoughts wandered…

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I thought of how we refer to HISTORY (His Story?) … and I thought of the Love Story dilemma…
    His love spurned in the garden, the height from which we had fallen (His Perfectness that makes the Old Testament look so harsh and scary – but it’s there to communicate a point…)…the climactic giving of Himself (Jesus – New Testament)…and now the waiting for love to be returned, one wandering soul at a time…

    Time. Waiting.

    As a writer of words…are you one of His mini-me’s?

    Ya…I’m just having a lazy morning coffee and my thoughts are travelling…

  50. The best time for writing is often first upon waking, before the Internal Editor becomes aware that you’re working. Why does he/she have to be so damned critical? I really loved your post. I am particularly fond of the final paragraph.

  51. gbarlowe says:

    Since I am working on my first novel, I have no experience with waiting on it’s acceptance or rejection letters. My waiting right now is waiting for everyone to leave everyday so I can get to my computer and write. When I sit down in the morning to write, all the ideas I’ve had while driving the kids to practice or stirring sauce on the stove come pouring out, sometimes faster than I can type. I cannot “wait” until I am waiting to hear back on my submission.

  52. gbarlowe says:

    Reblogged this on Grace Barlowe and commented:
    I love how this author describes their waiting process. So much of life is about waiting. You are either good at it or not.

    It is lambing season here on my farm and that means waiting for lambs to be born. I have a camera installed in my barn that I can view on my television. I check on the sheep, via the barn camera, every two hours around the clock. When I notice a ewe (female sheep) in labor, the waiting really begins. Labor can take from thirty minutes to four hours or more. I over turn a bucket and watch from the corner of the barn, ready to assist if necessary.

    While I wait, I write. I always bring my phone with me. I open notepad and write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it is stories about my animals. They all have such distinct and interesting personalities that they make for good story prompts.

    I
    Would say that over the years, I have become better at waiting. I

  53. Lynn Love says:

    Ah, we’ve all experienced this one.
    The best way I have of coping with it is to have several projects submitted at one time.
    Due to recent rejections and a withdrawal I made myself (I felt that waiting nine months for a reply that had been estimated at three was pushing it) I only have two stories in circulation at the present. Not enough, think, so I’m going to send out a raft of new subs soon.
    My logic is, if and/or when I receive a rejection, I can say to myself ‘Buck up, you still have that competition/ radio sub you’re waiting on.’
    Eventually something will find a home- I just have to keep subbing and waiting

  54. This is amazing. I loved reading this piece.

  55. Leah says:

    Love it! Thank you 🙂

  56. But what of the “good” waiting, when your hands are busy doing something besides writing: shoveling the snow, sweeping, just walking along, and the words and ideas start flowing and you can’t wait to get some of them down before they vanish as mysteriously and sudden as they arrived? That may be the only “good” waiting there is…

  57. apkfrog says:

    Thank you
    Fantastic Blog
    Good luck
    ………………………
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    http://www.apkfrog.com
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  58. This has just inspired me to mark and grade my year 7 English class’ homework! I don’t want the poor souls to have to wait any longer!

  59. apkready says:

    Nice Share, That’s very inspiring story. Good Luck

    My Blog

    http://apkready.com


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