By, Amy Sue Nathan
A long time ago, as a young married mom, I spent a lot of time waiting. Waiting for the right time to have another baby (three and a half years after the first), waiting for another move to another city for my husband’s job (five interstate moves in nine years), waiting to make long-term friendships, go on vacations, buy a house, start our lives.
But, the problem was, our life had started. Sure, I’d lived in the moment—I have the scrapbooks to prove it. But we also spent an inordinate amount of time planning for the future instead of steeping ourselves in the present the way we could have. It was fun to drive around and look at houses, to envision a few thousand square feet of living space instead of eight hundred, and to imagine a minivan instead of a hatchback. It was exciting to pluck travel brochures from the clutches of fervent travel agents (I told you it was a long time ago) and it was reassuring to think about building friendships that would span decades when we’d not lived anywhere longer than four years, when letters were written by hand and long-distance phone calls were expensive. So, we talked a lot about we would do when. We were eager for that part of our lives—the learning, growing, building part—the waiting part—to be over.
Silly us. Because when that next point in our lives arrived, and I settled into the sofa that took eight weeks to be delivered and stared at the custom-made draperies (I waited twelve weeks for those), I wondered where the time had gone. It wasn’t a matter of time going quickly. I didn’t (and still don’t) subscribe to the tenet that time flies, but in my case, it simply vanished. I looked back over a part of my life that was scattered among time zones and state lines. I couldn’t fit it all together to make one clear picture about what those years were about. I was a stay-at-home mom and loved that, but our entire lives were centered on what was next. My past was all about waiting. Planning. Looking ahead. Was that the decade’s purpose? I couldn’t believe I’d spent ten years—TEN!—waiting for that day, that time, when we could hang photos on the walls with nails and plant perennials.
So that’s when the wait was over. Literally. With that revelation I stopped waiting for whatever, or whoever, or wherever was next. From that moment on I nodded to the future with a kind, “see you soon,” but I focused only on the present. No matter what: no waiting. And when my kids were older and I was divorced, I carried this “no waiting” philosophy with me into a renewed career in writing.
Blogging and publishing articles and essays happened quickly. Then I hunkered down to write my first novel. A novel for which I wanted an agent and a publisher. I knew that pursuing traditional publishing meant a lot of waiting. I also knew I didn’t want to wait to be published. Surely that would be counterproductive, being a writer who wouldn’t wait, since sometimes it seems like all writers do is wait. Writers are always waiting for inspiration or feedback. Sometimes simultaneously. Okay, usually simultaneously.
What I learned was not to let waiting overshadow everything else, not to let waiting lead. Therefore, I did not allow my goal of publishing a novel to interfere with my being a writer. I wasn’t going to wait around to be published to have being a writer only about being published, even though that was my ultimate goal. I’d already learned that reaching a destination can be a lot less fulfilling than planned, so I knew I had to enjoy the road it took to possibly get there.
The journey itself became the purpose.
For about six years, I was not only writing my debut novel and working toward publication, but making writer friends, participating in workshops, learning about publishing, blogging, writing short stories, dipping into social media. I enjoyed it all. I still do. It was (and is) all worthy of my time and energy on its own, even if none of it led to being a published author. And that was the key for me. No matter what, every moment was valuable on its own merit. It’s like enjoying every meal, not just the special ones that end with cake (although those are fabulous).
It’s true that writing for publication can be all encompassing. Revisions and rejections can be blinding. Had I not been more focused on what I was doing than where I was heading, I would have given up. I submerged myself in something I loved and learned a lot. Did I pace sometimes? Sure. Get annoyed with rejections and no responses and thwarted deadlines? Absolutely! But, had I not signed with an agent or sold The Glass Wives I’d never have regretted anything I’d done, or the time I’d spent along the way. I’d have been disappointed. Maybe even annoyed. Sad perhaps. Even a little disillusioned. But as a cautious optimist with a cynical streak, I’d have been okay. I was accomplished in what I had gained—knowledge, skills, friendship.
Most importantly, I never felt at any time like I was simply waiting to be published because the process became as important as the published book. And it still is.
For me, it has to be.
Amy Sue Nathan is the author of Left to Chance, The Good Neighbor, and The Glass Wives. She is also the founder of The Women’s Fiction Writers blog, named a Best Website for Writers three years in a row by Writer’s Digest. Amy is the proud mom of two grown children (her favorite oxymoron) the willing servant to one thirteen-year-old dog.
What a great story. I feel that way about retirement I think. Always that carrot dangling. Thank you.