A few years into marriage, my husband and I tried to get pregnant. I assumed it would go something like this:
Month 1: we start trying
Month 2: we get pregnant
In reality, it took almost two years, and multiple doctor’s visits before we discovered the cause of my infertility and were able to get pregnant. (And I have several friends for whom the wait has been longer, the heartache more acute, the answer finally no).
A few months after writing my third novel, I decided I wanted to publish it. I assumed it would go something like this:
Year 1: get agent
Year 2: sell book
In reality, it’s been almost four years since I wrote that novel. And while I do have a wonderful agent, the road to getting published is still completely inscrutable. Perhaps I’ll get a call tomorrow that a book we have on submission has sold! Perhaps it will be another three years, and two more novels.
When we were trying to get pregnant, I received countless tips and anecdotes (all kindly meant). One that still makes me chuckle was “maybe if you stop thinking about it, you’ll get pregnant.” Trust me: when you’ve got a baby-shaped hole in your life, you can’t help but fall into it, or at least see it as you try to step around it, even when you’re actively practicing thankfulness for all that you’ve been given.
Writers often refer to their stories as their “book babies,” which is an extremely accurate title. It’s a struggle bringing them into the world. They don’t always turn out how you expected. You can love them dearly while still thinking “WHY WON’T YOU LET ME SLEEP.
I’ve heard a lot of advice about what to do during seasons of waiting, and I think it’s time for me to take out the tools I sharpened while waiting on a baby. So here are some of the mantras I’m currently preaching to myself:
- Practice thankfulness– there is so much to be thankful for: eyes to read this post, a chair to sit in, a brain that imagined up a story, a place to sleep, food, friends, the magic of electricity. Perhaps some of these are also holes waiting to be filled, but find the things you do have and make note of them. This type of thankfulness isn’t blind to your wants and needs. It isn’t sugar-coating your reality. But it does prepare you to receive that next gift with a healthy, joyful heart. And if, perhaps, the gift isn’t all you were expecting (the advance is small, the agent wasn’t in your top 5), you have the tools to spot the good in it and focus on that, rather than the bad.
- Don’t compare– Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying that “comparison is the thief of joy.” This is equally true in the worlds of parenting and publishing. There is always someone with more book babies, bigger deals, more time to write, more money to go on retreats. We all chose this business because we love it. And yet we are often also the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. At one point, J.D. Rockefeller was the richest person in the world, and when he was asked “how much money is enough?” his answer was: “just a little bit more.” Don’t be that guy. 😉
- Keep on keeping on– When we didn’t get pregnant right away, I got a new job. Not because I necessarily wanted one, but because I knew that if I sat around and waited, I would drive myself (and my husband) crazy. I suppose this is the closest I ever came to “not thinking about it.” I made sure to keep myself busy with the opportunities that were in front of me. And we can do that with writing too: are you in the query trenches? Write another book! Are you out on submission? Join a critique group! Are you tired out from writing and waiting and querying and waiting? Give yourself permission to step away for a while, and maybe join a book group! Remind yourself why you wanted to be a writer in the first place. Soak in all the beautiful words that others have sweated and labored over.
- Invest in writing friends– I don’t know what I’d do without my writing friends. They let me send them panicky emails and encourage me when I’m exhausted or sad. They understand the ups and downs of this business. And they remind me that I can write, when I’m tempted to deny it. 🙂 But make sure it’s a healthy relationship: that you are giving comfort and advice as well as receiving it, that you are sending the congratulation cards when your friend gets pregnant (or gets a book deal) before you. These can be some of your richest and most rewarding friendships.
And remember, that even if you do get an agent quickly, and perhaps sell your first book quickly, the chances are that at some point in your life, you will be called upon to wait. And the sharper these tools are, the smoother that time will be. 🙂