It is said that part of the life of the writer – a big part, perhaps the biggest – is WAITING. Once you’ve done something and it’s out of your hands, you wait. You wait for an editor to send it back. You wait for a copyedit. You wait for cover art. You wait for publication. Most often, heartbreakingly often, you wait for money to come in from somewhere. You’d think that this would teach the human being who purports to be a writer a modicum of patience. But no. When God was giving out patience I must have been stuck in a different queue somewhere. I have very little patience with waiting, and particularly with waiting for other people to do stuff that needs doing before I can get on with doing my own tasks.
Those of us well trained in being well behaved and civilized… find ourselves reluctant to ask. Asking feels too much like nagging. But when something was promised “tomorrow”… and then tomorrow comes and goes… and so does another two days… and then a week… and then maybe you do ask, or that something is followed up by something that sounds like a justified reason… but the thing itself doesn’t turn up… and then another week passes… and perhaps three weeks… and you kind of think, well, maybe I should ASK… you know how it goes. We all feel as though asking somehow prioritises us over whatever else is going on elsewhere and that feels awfully self centered and hubristic (what, I think they have nothing else to do but think about me? Who am I to think that? Why would they…?)
And so, we wait.
In other times and places, we wait for the bus that is inexplicably late. We wait for the plumber who said he would be there at 2, and it is now 3 and he is not there. We wait for the person we’ve made an appointment with and we got there early just in case and now that other person is late late late. We wait for the rains to come; we wait for the sun to return. We wait until the check comes in so we can balance the checkbook – or so that we can quickly transfer money elsewhere to cover that unexpected expense for which you never have to wait because they come when you least want or expect them. We wait for other people. We wait for ourselves. And even though we sometimes shake ourselves off and pursue something instead of waiting for it, we’re conditioned to wait. Somewhere in the back of our minds there’s a Miss Havisham room, festooned with cobwebs and with dusty silverware laid out for some meal for which the guests never came… and we return there, and sit down quietly, and fold our hands. And we wait.
Not waiting feels presumptuous. Feels arrogant. Feels pushy. Not waiting ‘our turn’ feels like we are transgressing rules of good behavior. And yet… those who wait less and act more… do they get ahead faster? We writers, we have been told that “simultaneous submissions” are bad form – so we send a story in one market at a time. And if a market takes six weeks to reply, or six months… we wait? Yes, I know. Write another story. Send that out. (and wait some more).
You know that smarmy little voice on the phone when you’re on hold and you’re told your call is important and they’ll be with you momentarily, and they thank you for your patience…? Well, mine is wearing awfully thin. It’s almost seethrough at this point. I don’t mind keeping a place in a reasonable queue but I’m with one of those vultures perched on a bare branch in a cartoon I once saw, and one of them is saying darkly to the other, “patience, hell. I want to KILL something….”