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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I WILL REMEMBER YOU– Things Writers Say That Make Me Nervous: The Smashing Conclusion of a Five Part Series

Take your time. Take your time is code for: read my pages now. When a writer says read it whenever you get a chance, he means skip your daughter’s wedding and get reading, pal. There is nothing more adorable than a writer pretending to be mellow, cool, chill. Dude, read it whenevs. I’m already working on a new project. I could use a big break so take your time. Take your time is code for: my life is in the balance. Writers have developed all sorts of coping mechanisms to cope with the waiting. Some include: self-flagellation, excessive self-love, massive weight gain, massive weight loss, cleaning and organizing, chopping garlic, and my personal favorite: cutting frayed towels into dust rags.

How do you handle the agonizing, soul-killing, mind-fuck of waiting?

I

63 Responses

  1. I write. I check my email every five minutes. I watch baseball. I eat a lot of pastries. I check my email every two minutes and write some more.

  2. I wait for so much: the check that’s “in the mail”, the purported good effects of the acupuncture regime I’m enduring, the decision on two day-job proposals I sent out last week AND a bunch of queries to literary agents– I think my real job title should be Waitress.

    While in that limbo, I focus on all the other unfinished projects still vying for attention. I’ve also taught myself how to (barely) play the piano. Type A means never running out of things to do, ideas to research, thoughts to explore!

  3. Raw cookie dough.

    Could you talk more about this “excessive weight loss” strategy, please?

  4. The mind-fuck of waiting? How do I handle it? Pretty poorly, and with scotch alternated with cleaning my kitchen baseboards with a toothbrush. Televised soccer. Obsessively cyber-stalking editors I think have my ms. Half-heartedly beginning something new with the usual self-contempt.

    I fantasize not being a writer anymore. Maybe I’ll just garden, I say. But then I think about all the subversive gardening books I could write.

    Oh, and by the way, I fucking hate summer. The waiting is fourteen times as long when everyone’s at the Cape and whatnot.

  5. Massive weight loss. Hahahahahahahahahahaha.

    • Exactly my thought.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one. I’d like some of that Massive Weight Loss waiting-stress, please. (said the woman sitting on her hard kitchen floor at 4 a.m., eating a hunk of pumpkin bread with cream cheese frosting, waiting for her new puppy to go back to sleep …)

      P.S. Jess, tell us about those pickles.

      • Ate the first one today. Cleaning, canning and those cornichon pickles. At least my anxiety over waiting produces something I can eat later.

  6. Gardening? Cleaning? Playing the piano? How productive you all are! I just obsessively check e-mail, eat too much and get sucked into Twitter and reading blogs and buying more books on Amazon. Sometimes I write on my own blog. But mostly I just perseverate about whatever it is I’m waiting for. Over. And over. And over.

  7. enter the alternate Hell called networking.

  8. Off topic: curious juxta posey when another agent on another blog, no God damn it, I am NOT unfaithful, I didn’t enjoy it, but that ‘one’ went on about ‘give it five years’. Ummmm, no.

    But don’t mind fucks nourish the soul? No? Not even a little?

    • Five years? Seriously???

      • I must, in all fairness, explain that she was referring to career issues rather than specific works. But those kinda blend in my mind.

      • That agent must be moon-lighting for the SBA: that’s their favorite benchmark to determine if a business will last. In that scenario, though, it is understood the business is in operation for five years, not waiting five years for a customer (translate publishing contract for writers) to walk through the door!

  9. I pretend to myself that I’m not waiting–that a watched pot never boils. I get busy, busy,busy. I persuade myself that it doesn’t matter. So what if I get a rejection. All the best writers have apparently, so I’m in good company. To be honest, I think I can handle the waiting. It’s the decision that hurts.

  10. I circle a date on my calendar based on the average response time for the submission and tell myself that I’m not allowed to obsess until then.

    Sometimes this even works.

  11. This is not funny. The waiting kills me.

    Initially. Then I switch into secretary mode and the email checking peters out mostly.

    But my waiting is still a sad dog on a short chain tied to a post nailed into the ground.

  12. Let’s see, I make cheesecakes, pound cakes or peach cobblers for my writing groups and friends. Lots of people get well fed because of my writer’s worry.

    Sometime gin, dark beer, very good chocolate and ice cream lots and lots of ice cream are involved as I keep checking my emails every hour or so.

  13. I kinda like the waiting. The other shoe hasn’t fallen yet.

    • Exactly. For me, post-submission brings a tiny window of accomplishment and hope–before that boulder of rejection shatters the glass.

    • Yes, exactly. For one shining moment I can say, I’ve finished the book and it’s making the rounds. Later, it will be, I’ve written the sorriest piece of dog shit that has ever been put to the page. No one likes it, no one wants it, and I am unloved.

      This week I received a rejection from a lit mag for an essay I submitted almost a year ago. I hardly remember what the piece was about, but the power of that not-for-us remains undiluted.

  14. I just want to say that sometimes I tell my editor to take her time to read because I truly mean it. I don’t want the agony of the comments, I need a break from criticism and the book and the intense scrutiny. I know from the terrible mindfuck of waiting, I spent a month on a leather sofa in an apartment on the Mediterranean and did not even get up to look out the window but just read Judith Rossner novels and ate gross supermarket pate while waiting to hear if my first book sold and returned to the U.S. 20 lbs. heavier never having swum in the sea and hating myself for it. But I’d not told anyone to take their time then.

  15. Not very well. I’m worse between November and February, long nights and short days, figuring out ways to bide my time without getting too stressed out. Stress and I do not get along. I know that, so why do I let it take hold of me? Mostly I try to just go about my normal routines and pretend I’m not at all concerned about something that matters very much to me. If I say Take Your Time and No Problem often enough, maybe I’ll start to believe it.

  16. Fuggedaboutit. There’s always too much to do, so I’m always doing it. That’s why all the girls call me Sissy Fits, as in, “There’s old Sissy Fits, having tired hissy fits.” The girls are poets, mistresses of the coupling couplets, turning tricks with words. “Dollars for all, chump change for none” is their socialistickal motto. They are feared on Wall Strasse and in the halls of putative power. Bankers tremble to hear of them coursing through the Bourse, the rattle of their stilettos punctuating the fetid night.

  17. I do a lot of gnashing my teeth, rending my clothes, and shaking my fist at the sky. Does that count as “handling it”?

  18. What’s really weird is when I’ve run out of things to wait for (doesn’t happen often)…the rejections all come in a batch, I realize I haven’t sent any queries out for a while (because those last few I sent just had to be it) and suddenly I’m not checking my email every five minutes. I remember I have a daughter and that she needs to eat. I read books instead of the old rejections–the ones that were really nice–and I stop blog-stalking all the agents I have sent queries or manuscripts, just to make sure they’re alive, that they could be reading it right then.

    So I send more stuff out, and get back to pulling my iPhone out of my pocket every few minutes to check my email. I think the waiting is sort of like heroin. I really don’t want to wait. I don’t. But I must…

  19. Line up a bunch of other things so if the one I’m hoping for falls through, there’s other stuff to look forward to. Rejection is so normal in this game.

  20. So far I’ve only submitted little things, so waiting to hear is not too bad. I try to move on to the next thing.

    But if I ever finish my novel, which I’m writing as a trilogy so it’ll delay all the agony of agents, publishers, and self-promotion, I think it’ll be pretty hard to wait. Or maybe it’ll just be a relief to have it/them gone so I can catch up on my reading.

  21. Hurricane Erin nearly did me in, not because I was worried about the effect the approaching storm might have on my home, but because it threatened cancellation of the last meeting of my writing group. Liberty Red Cat Two Shoes (our teacher) was headed for California, her final critique still an open question. Most of my children were still living at home, so I did what a mother with a busy household does, just with a yearning heart.

  22. And here I thought writing was suppossed to be fun! When I was younger (but not foolish), I got my share of rejections, but a few acceptions (?), too. At my current age, I have published stories, plays, poetry, etc. Not a novel, but I’m gaining on it. I write huomorous poetry, which doesn”t sell, but it gets into anthologies (I don’t pay for) and my self-published Rhyimes of Father Gander has done quite well. Life is what yiou make it, and I think one just needs to know how to relax. Writing is fun. Believe me. (Webb)

  23. Faulkner said it well in his Paris Review interview,

    “There is no such thing as was—only is. If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow.”

    I’m so afraid of “is”, I write in perpetuity where clocks don’t tick.

  24. When I send things, I tell my agent to take her time. Would I like a quick response? Sure. But I’m not going to be a pushy asshole with the woman I’m relying on to sell my book. I’m not sure it’s a matter of lying so much as it is a matter of being smart. And because I don’t constantly behave as though I’m the center of her universe, when I do (really do) need a quicker turnover, she is usually happy to oblige.

  25. Damn. Were you looking over my shoulder last weekend when I was getting out old towels and clothing to use as rags? Now I understand the motivation behind it all. As for the rest, I’m guilty of all of the above to some degree. Especially. playing at the mellow thing. But keeping it professional, how else, should one act? I mean, should one tell their agent instead that I’m really anxious to get you going on this, could you take a look this weekend and get back to me Monday morning? I get up early. Six a.m. Central time would be good. I’ll have my notepad ready? What is a proper approach? How does a writer on pins and needles convey they do, in fact, want their agent to get on it at their earliest convenience? Should one simply ask, when do you think you might be able to get back to me on this? How’s that? Too pushy? Unprofessional? Needy? A pain in the ass?

    • I had a good laugh at this comment, mainly because it rings so many pathetic bells in my psyche. I did email my significant publishing person and basically asked for a strong hint because I simply can’t go on with these erratic mood swings – complete failure/success!/rejection/adoration?/returned to the slushpile/secure in the arms of my loving publisher…on and on and on, several times a day. Probably not the best approach, but, I figure I have a right to ask because I am insecure and I am a writer and the two go together like bread and butter and if significant publishing person can’t handle insecure authors as part of the trials of publishing, then I guess they shouldn’t be in the industry.

  26. Margaritas and Shark Week.

  27. Oh, I just cringed in recognition. Currently I am repainting every baseboard, hallway and bedroom in my house while my ms circles JFK in what feels like a never ending holding pattern. We are still praying we don’t just get diverted (because of excessive like, not love) back to Den.

  28. Red wine used to help. Picking fights with random strangers helped, too. But my new solution is to never, ever submit. I refuse to submit to submission! I have saved myself a lot of pain with this method, I tell you.

  29. cutting frayed towels into dust rags? Note to self: try that one.

  30. The first few years, I used to check the mail daily. Then, after I got my first five fulls back over eight months later, with 1) one-line form rejections with the wrong title typed in 2) notes saying they don’t rep nonfiction (I write novels) or 3) a scribbled note saying the agent was no longer with the company, I found a new strategy: DON’T BELIEVE A WORD THEY SAY.

    It’s like when a guy says he’ll call you. I figure an agent asks for a read for the same reasons a guy asks for a phone number. There’s less than 1% chance he’ll call, but why not ask for it just in case? Oh, the power!

  31. I have no problem waiting, because, like “the girl in the hat,” I never get up the nerve to submit. All those things y’all do while waiting–cutting rags, eating, cleaning the counters, eating, painting baseboards, eating–they are great avoidance techniques too.
    I don’t stop at old towels. I cut cotton pants and tees in neat squares of graduated sizes. They make excellent rags for polishing Mother’s silverware–after I’ve finished picking off the cat hairs. Bookshelves always need rearranging. And blogs need commenting.

  32. I like to read the 1-star reviews of popular books as a pick-me-up. (But not write them — gosh, I can be bitter, but I’m not THAT awful.)

  33. If I ever get to that point, it will probably involve more weight gain and an excess of porn viewing.

  34. I haven’t had time to comment this week but I wanted to say what a great series of posts it’s been: your usual great style/voice and insight on the process that I’ve never heard before. Thank you!

  35. Agreed. Some of your best stuff ever, Betsy. A delightful and insightful list of reasons writers should simply submit and then shut the hell up.

  36. I suspect, if you really experience such melodramatic mood swings as you describe, you should seriously look into psychotherapy.

  37. Simple. I assume that no response is rejection. No ned to wait. And if you get a psotieive response eventaully, that’s a great surprise. You can’t just wait. You have to send to amny, so that you’ll always geta response very week from someone.

  38. Hmm..i’m surprised the e-mail got published after they say it will not. Oh well.

  39. This is brilliant. I have been known to clean the house, from top to bottom. And then go on a baking frenzy. I wait poorly, but it can’t be helped.

  40. How do I wait? I dunno, I have a dayjob, so that takes up a ton of time.

  41. I ignore so much other stuff when the frenzy of writing hits, that waiting allows for some space to attend to life – the grass gets cut, the day job of teaching gets some attention, my kids get their mom back, my husband get to know me again…

    Waiting would suck if it did not feel so much like a vacation.

  42. So funny. I sent my agent pages yesterday and used the pseudo-mellow sign-off. Didn’t realize I was so transparent!

    She hasn’t written back to acknowledge that she got the email, and though it hasn’t even been 24 hours, I’m already worried that my transmission got snagged in her spam filter. Now I’m torturing myself, wondering if I should send another email asking if she got the first one.

    So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be right here, stuck in hell …

  43. I count.

    – how many days since I sent it to my agent
    – how many flaws it had that I couldn’t fix, plot holes I couldn’t fill – they seemed small before but they grow and gape like a hundred tumors
    – how many parts I once thought were brilliant that now seem forced and empty – it’s not literature, it’s Frankenstein’s monster, random body parts dug up and sewn together, jolted into some bastardized kind of life
    – how many drafts I wrote, four full ones, dozens of mini ones, I kept them all. Only the last one was any good, but was it good enough ?
    – how many days since I sent it to my agent – what the hell is taking her ?
    – how many days, months, years of my life I’ve devoted to writing about these goddamned people in that goddamned place so goddamned long ago – my youngest daughter must have been seven when I started, she’s eleven now, just look at her, look at all of them, where did the fucking time go ?
    – how many opportunities I’ve let pass me by so I could focus on this – what is this ? is it even real ?
    – how many colleagues I’ve seen advance around me while I spent every spare fucking minute on this piece of shit, this so-called art, this story
    – what the fuck is taking my agent ? Does it suck that bad ? Has she even read it yet ? Or is she worried about how to break the news ? Or just focusing on her more talented clients, the favoured children, the ones that make her money ?
    – how many miles have I run to stay sane, how many grey hairs have sprouted almost overnight, how many new lines now crease my forehead
    – how many people count on me, depend on me to be successful, to make this happen – my friends ask me how it’s going, they mean to be supportive but it doesn’t help – they don’t understand, once it’s written the rest is totally out of my control

    I can’t write. I sleep like shit. I’m distracted ALL the time, checking my email, thinking, worrying, bitching – I hate being like this. I honestly forgot how hard it was – it’s not really any easier than before I had an agent, just different

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