There are different kinds of waiting games that writer’s play and none of them are fun. Well, for me most are painful, mixed occasionally with moments of pleasure, but not fun. Definitely not fun. What do writer’s wait for? Here’s four to start with.
- a response from an editor -This is painful because it means potential rejection and the more neurotic you are the more you focus on this part. Raise your hand if you are in the more rather than less. Also it creates more anxiety the longer it goes on and it can take weeks, months, and yes, sometimes years for them to get back to you. Some never get back to you. Some get back to you with foul language in a long letter with a large coffee stain on the center of it. Okay that only happened once. What’s good about waiting for a response? Your work is being considered and there are short bouts of hope. Hope, hope, hope. Got to have hope.
- a response from an agent – see editor above. This one holds even if the agent is your agent. Actually it’s worse in some ways if it’s your agent because they’re supposed to be responsive to you. How many emails should it take to get your agent to respond? How long should you have to wait? One day? One week? One month? One year? Should you ever call? Can you text? How about face time? Is it okay to visit the office? Mind you I don’t have the answers to these questions. I use to, but then all my answers were proved wrong. I will say though, that stalking is right out wrong. If you’re at that point you should probably be looking for another agent.
- a response from a reader of your manuscript. If it’s a friend, partner, spouse, writer’s group colleague, or family member, and you’ve given them a time limit (reasonable, be reasonable!), and they’re kind (only ask them if they’re kind), then waiting should be shorter and easier. It helps if they’ve read your manuscripts before – or any manuscript before and it helps if they owe you money.
I’ve written about this before. I must have. Unless I haven’t and it’s all been in my mind. I do a lot of talking in my mind but not out loud. I think writer’s do this a lot.
The third piece of the story.
My best friend, Joe DePalmo, was hit by a train when I was 13. We were the kind of friends who saw each other every single day. Living on the same block helped. He left school on a day filled with rain and thunderstorms. I don’t know why he left. No one does. He wore thick glasses. He crossed a railroad track and was hit by the LIRR. They announced it over the loudspeaker in 8th period while I sat next to his empty seat in math class.
Write what you know.
I wrote about it in 10th grade for an essay competition in school. I didn’t win because my spelling was so terrible – seriously I placed but didn’t win. I’m so grateful for spell-check now. The piece of writing is gone. I never got it back. I’ve tried to rewrite the essay a few times but just can’t do it. So it worked its way through my subconscious, into my conscious, and after 42 years into the life of Illya Kuryakin Cruz-Archer – IC for short. IC’s 16. He plays a tabletop miniatures game called 40-K and he practices yoga and his parents are HIV positve and Brad Sologashvilles just gave him the Mark of Zorro.
The hit was one of the ideas to start the novel I’m working on, but not the only one.
Four years ago Evelyn Fazio, WestSide Books Editor and all around wonderful person (she did publish my first novel Open Wounds!), told me to write about my HIV/AIDS work. We’d just had lunch and I’d told her about my day job. “Write about it,” she said. Her suggestion stuck with me.
About a year later I wrote this line:
Did you ever wish you could be invisible, like The Invisible Man from that H.G. Wells book? He wrote that in 1897. Unfucking believable, my uncle Hatch would say. Both Wells and Hatch knew something about the need to disappear.
Then I wrote ten pages about a boy named IC whose parents were living with HIV. Then I found the hit tucked away in an electronic file. Maybe it found me. Something told me to put it in front of IC. It came first. I started at the end. Then I wrote two hundred pages – forward up to the opening scene, finished it, and kept going into act 3.
I wanted to write about HIV but not about someone who had HIV. HIV is much more a chronic illness today than it ever was and there’s a whole generation of long term survivors who are in their fifties and sixties who are dealing more with old age, albeit accelerated by their HIV, than HIV. They’re also dealing with AIDS Survivor Syndrome and loneliness and depression, and … It truly is a time when we can end the epidemic. Inhale exhale.
I’ve worked in the public health field of HIV/AIDS for over 25 years.
Write what you know. There’s a third element. I forgot about it. It’s unpleasant so I forgot about it even though it happened in reality before the hit did. It’s another expedition into the wormhole. I didn’t realize until now it was these three things that begged to be written about that came together into one story. I’ve kept them separated in my head where all the work it partitioned off. I’ll get to the third part because they all tie together under the write what you know label. Just not right now. I need to circle around just a little more.
I wrote ‘the end’ yesterday. A lot of writer’s talk about it, the feeling they have when they write ‘the end.’ I find a bit of sadness and a bit of anxiety and a bit of satisfaction as in. It’s not a first draft but it’s not a last. It’s a draft that says to me,
I wrote ‘the end’ yesterday. A lot of writer’s talk about it, the feeling they have when they write ‘the end.’ I find a bit of sadness and a bit of anxiety and a bit of satisfaction as in I can’t get no. It’s not a first draft but it’s not a last. It’s a draft that says to me, I need to be read and validated and edited now.
Overall it’s a pretty good feeling.
It weighs in at 301 pages and about 70,000 words in courier font because courier reminds me of a manual typewriter. It’s taken two and a half years to get here and a couple of wormholes and a few false starts – though I wrote the opening page about nine years ago. It’s funny how that works.
My first reader is my wife, Karen. Always.
She asks me, “Am I going to get upset?” I nod. Of course. She knew the answer before she asked. I could tell you about the plot but it doesn’t matter because it’s really about my friend who died when I was twelve. His name was Joe, same as me, and I still, 42 years later, think about him.
I’ve been working hard on this book, pushing, since June. Since June I wrote the last act, some 80 pages, and read through/edited three times – lunch-time when I could. Some late nights. Some weekends. I made time. I gave up some other things instead. I found a good rhythm – one that, as a novelist, I haven’t been able to find in a while. It feels really good to find it again.
Now I don’t know quite what to do with myself except wait and try not to ask Karen, “Did you start reading yet?” I asked her this morning. I have no impulse control about this. Really, I don’t – never have.