Waiting for the Call that You Think Will Change Your Life

Your agent has submitted the manuscript of your latest novel to a dozen major publishers. You are living in a strange pause, like being in a bare, sterile waiting room belonging to a stranger, where you wait for the call that will change your life. Again.

There isn’t a writer alive who hasn’t experienced this. Your story is not unique.

All through the 1980’s you wrote and waited feverishly for ‘The Call.’ You were always behind on bills, so you’d take on jobs to pay them off, and then immediately quit so you could write again. You were certain The Call would save you. Destitute, you’d find another brief job to tide you over. Your romance novels did eventually sell, but then Signet’s Rapture Romance line went under and you thought you’d try your hand at other writing loves: you dug up your first mystery; you wrote a ‘serious’ novel about a homeless man; you wrote an autobiographical coming-of-age book. You were determined, committed, arrogantly optimistic. Convinced that writing novels was your life, your future.

The Bright Face of Danger was published in the early 1990’s. From the moment you sold it to St. Martin’s, your friends asked, “Are you working on another book?” Yes. At the publishing party people asked, “When is your next one going to be published?” Yes.

The fact is, you’ve published no novel since. And it hasn’t been for lack of trying. You wrote, and wrote, and wrote. The barn in the back of your house is crammed with hundreds of decaying manuscripts, printed out on old dot matrix printers, and spiral-bound notebooks overflowing with vast ideas for stories. This book, that book; this synopsis, that outline; you pitched one idea, and then another. You tried this genre and then that. And all the time you kept writing, and revising, and rewriting, and starting something new. You thought you were doing everything possible to make it happen.

You can’t believe it hasn’t happened. Even after all this time, you’re still waiting for The Call.

You got married, had babies, moved to the heart of the country, got a fulltime job to support your writing habit – and fell into darkness. Even at the very bottom of the pit of despair, you still wrote. Worse than writer’s block, it was a soul-searing addiction. Most of the time your agent tried to find you a publisher; one time she suggested you work with another agent; and occasionally she offered good advice. Like, “Write what you love.” “Don’t quit your day job.” “Join a writer’s group – don’t go this alone.” All good advice. Trouble was, even though you followed it, you still didn’t get published again.

So this waiting game is nothing new. Each time your agent agreed to submit a novel, you were on tenterhooks waiting for The Call. Months would pass, and then the rejections would trickle in. Rejections that would keep your heart soaring with confidence: “Although Ms. Eliot’s writing reminds me of Daphne Du Maurier’s books…” “Although her publishing credentials are impressive…” “Although the plot is tightly woven…” “Although her main characters are appealing and the story well told…”

But no contract.

Your agent received your latest manuscript last May; she read it in June; had some corrections in July; was about to submit it in August but said ‘nothing happens in publishing in the summer; let’s wait till September.’ Not so long to wait. Not in this game.

But today, once again, you feel restless and agitated. Your next book is already finished. You’re in the midst of another one; and you’ve accomplished more than your usual daily writing quota. You are frustrated. Anxious. What if… what if you never sell another book? What will you do?

The whole publishing world has changed. Perhaps it’s time to consider self-publishing and self-promotion. That would be an enormous job and not one that comes easily to you. But what else should you do if The Call never comes? You are not a book reviewer, you are not a ‘real’ blogger. You are not promoting anything on your web site. You think about branding yourself, and you look at your website, and you cringe. You are all over the place: it’s about friends, mothering, teaching, musings, happiness, writing tips… who the hell are you, really? What on earth are you trying to promote? Who are you trying to connect with? Why do you bother?

All this inward struggle makes you want to weep with frustration. So you open the I-Ching and throw the coins, and ask what this all means. Guidance, is your plea. You need guidance.

The response is swift and clear:  Hsu – which in Chinese means ‘waiting’ or ‘nourishment.’ The hexagram shows the clouds gathering in the heavens, and the rain approaching. You cannot make it come; you have to wait for it. This is not the time to grow agitated.

“Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal. Such certainty brings light which leads to success. Impatience can do nothing. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events.”

Clouds rise up to heaven: The image of waiting. Thus the superior man eats and drinks, is joyous and of good cheer.

You put away the coins, close the book, and rest for a while. There is nothing you have to do, nowhere to go, no calls to make, no notes to take, no friends to see. You don’t have to brand, or discover, or market, or do better, or worse, or worry about anything. Be still; find your inner quiet.

The October afternoon dims as the clouds gather. It all seems still, hushed.

6 thoughts on “Waiting for the Call that You Think Will Change Your Life

  • Hi Winslow,

    What a frustrating time! I recognise that sense of restlessness and agitation when you feel that things are out of your control and power. You have a substantial body of work both published and unpublished. You have accomplished what many dream of but understandably to write is not quite enough, you want to be read.

    Since you have already been published I would also consider the self-publishing or e-publishing route. Without meaning to sound preachy the publishing world is changing so much that perhaps what we perceive to be the lesser alternative to traditional publication may, in a short while become the norm. Perhaps we all need to look at different models of getting our work known and read and remunerated. I recently signed up to receive three short stories a month for the yearly rate of $10 from an author I had only just become aware of. Electronic novel serialisations, e-books etc might be a way for all of us to raise our profiles, particularly if we have a wealth of material behind us. The self-promotion aspect is daunting but in the spirit of twitter and other social networking mechanisms, once there is reciprocity, goodwill and mutual benefit in the exchange, self-promotion is merely sharing.

    The waiting with optimistic intent is a perfect frame of mind to research and explore some alternative ideas.

  • A colleague of mine told me she always “aimed for perfection and settled for excellence.” I’ve often revisited her mantra knowing that there is nothing at all wrong with excellence and perfection is so subject to the opinions of others. I will now add “wait with optimistic intent” to my collection of wise advise.

  • Sheesh, a typo in my comment! I should have typed “advice” and not “advise.” I am again repeating my mantra, aim for perfection and settle for excellence … ; )

  • Winslow, you asked me my opinion. Prior to reading this yesterday, I had worked myself in a period of stagnation, panic, anxiety, and fear. And then I read this. My first reaction was, “Oh great, this is what I want to hear from a published author with her works translated into several languages.”

    Please don’t get me wrong, I love the work. The raw feelings from someone in a moment of pure frustration. There is truth in the words, deep truth. I was just at a point at the moment I read it that I could not fathom having the energy to wrestle through the rest of the author game.

    Maybe I shouldn’t even bother to blah blah blah.

    And I re-read this…

    “Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal. Such certainty brings light which leads to success. Impatience can do nothing. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events.”

    And I said, “Well Damn it!!!”

    The message is true for so much more than just the publishing game. It’s true about our entire life, at the moment we can see the truth without preconceived opinion or thought, things become clear.

    It was after reading that and the conversation with my wife that I was able to set the fear aside and do what I always do.

    Your words had an impact.

    Thank you.

    Robert E

  • Thanks for the comments, friends. I take your thoughts deeply to heart and feel so much better! I’ve played the “If Only” game (another word for the “Author Game,” as Robert so perfectly calls it) for far too long. Writing is like marriage: it doesn’t stop at the wedding vows. Having children isn’t about birthing them; it’s about growing them. Writing is life itself, not an ideal. The sufis talk about giving in to hopelessness, which for an incurable (pathetic) optimist like myself I find the hardest of all. But what hopelessness means is actually a holy acceptance of what is. There’s nothing mysterious or gloomy about that – it’s what every esoteric path instructs: be here now. I’m not sure why writers, in particular, find this way of being so painfully hard. Also, thanks, Alison, for reminding me of something: I’ve always lived an ‘alternative’ lifestyle: education, childbirth and rearing, organic, homeopathic, etc, etc; except in this one area: publishing novels. Maybe now is the time to move away from mainstream publishing and finally explore alternatives, that have to do with relationships, organic growing of a project, personal interest and commitment. I should feel right at home with that. As Diane says, one can only do the best one can do. The waiting is actually in the living.

  • Hey Winslowe;
    We have all been in that pit of despair, some of us like myself still think we are in it. The thing, the one true thing that I can tell you, and something you should be proud of is that you have had a novel published, and, amongst your Twitter pals how many can say that? I cant. I wish I could.
    Good post, and good luck!

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