No, I’m not talking about waiting for agents. Waiting for agents is a little like waiting for Godot (the point of the play was that you should get on with your life because no one can give you enlightenment). No, I’m talking about the waiting for things you know will get a response, job applications, scholarships, college applications. The waiting for something that will change your life.
When I was in high school, I applied to four universities (I had a back up whose deadline was after the reply time for all four). Each had its own special slice of awesome, and I wanted to go to each for a particular reason. I would have filled out the standard requested seven, but who am I kidding, application fees were a lot of money then (like how could I have realized that application fees were just the start), and I didn’t have that many places I was willing to live in since I was from a town of 850 people total.
So my mom and I toured the Oregon and Washington coast in search of the perfect college. I didn’t need much, I just wanted a place with a rigorous physics department and a kick ass creative writing department (nothing much really). We got to University of Washington, and I pretty much fell in love. We saw a couple of liberal arts colleges, but it was pretty obvious that only the big colleges had physics departments, so no liberal arts college for me.
We got home, and I applied to the University of Washington, hot to trot to start my new life as the sophisticated physics student from Washington. The other three colleges were actually second and third choices. I applied to the University of Arizona because they had a big Lunar Program. I applied to the University of California Santa Barbara on a whim because my academic advisor said Sally Ride taught physics there. I applied to UC Irvine because they told me it was rural.
But those other three were just backups in the same way that you sometimes carry back up clothes in your car just in case something happens and you need to change for no reason. Which is to say, they weren’t well researched, or well vetted.
From January till March I checked the mail every single day. I trusted no one to open that mail box but me. What if my mom opened the mailbox and somehow lost the acceptance letter between the mailbox and the house (it was a long driveway, it could happen). Or worse, what if the acceptance letter could sense my lack of dedication to the University of Washington by letting my mom pick up the letter? What if it turned itself into a rejection letter at my lack of commitment?
Needless to say, I fretted a lot about that letter. I had written a good application. I had done everything I could. I had good grades, a good essay (first and last for that), and above all, I was a highly motivated (read: obsessive) student willing to work hard for the greatness of physics. I skipped hanging out with my friends to be the one to check the mail. I opted to do extra chores. I started a novel I didn’t finish. I sent my first short story to collect my first rejection letter. I took it as a sign that I probably wouldn’t make it as a writer, but that didn’t matter. I was going to make it as a physicist. I was going to chase down that dream.
Still I waited. I waited. I waited.
I didn’t do much but wait. I’d check the mail, and even then, even knowing that tomorrow’s mail wouldn’t be there for a whole 24 hours, I waited.
And then the letter came. I opened the mailbox, and there it was, hiding with all the bills. I knew the moment I saw it. I knew. It was a small envelope, and acceptance letters came with a ton of propaganda. Maybe it was an acceptance letter saying my real propaganda packet would be on its way soon, but they couldn’t bear to wait another second to tell me yes. I took two steps with that hopeful lie curled around my knotting stomach.
By the time I was halfway up the driveway, I knew the voice for a pathetic liar. I’d never heard of anyone getting speedy acceptance letter. It wasn’t looking good. So, knowing my fate for that of a walking college corpse, I hid in my room and opened the letter.
I didn’t read the rest of the letter for an hour. No one regrets accepting you into their college. It was the dreaded rejection. And I’d spent my time waiting for it, pining away and dreaming of a new life.
I’d wasted three months of my life waiting for something that turned out to be a rejection.
If you write, I think you know the moral of this story. Get on with your life, and especially your writing. Waiting is wasting. I wish it were easier to write through the anxiety of maybe.
I’m going to be better about waiting. You? Or are you one of those people for whom inner grace has already propelled you to the calm steely-eyed missile man NASA wants?