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Like Waiting By The Phone

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Undoubtedly, you have noticed how literary bloggers are impossibly popular with the ladies. Since I prefer for Slushpile.net to remain at least reasonably polite and fit for mixed company, I spend a great deal of time deleting the comments left by nubile young ladies offering themselves up to me. When I arrive at literary events, my limosine is besieged by crowds of adoring female fans. And rock stars have been known to seek my expert counsel in the ways of dealing with overly aggressive groupies. Yes, it’s true. Launch your own lit blog and see how quickly you transform into a Hugh Hefner style-swordsman. I’m sure my female lit-blogging colleagues experience similar fanatical attention from male readers.

However, this wasn’t always the case. Impossible as it may be to believe, there once was a time when I trembled at the thought of speaking to a young lady and when geometry class seemed like it would never end before I could rush back to my locker to see if that girl responded to my note.

Lo these many years later, I may not have those difficulties with girls (a mid-level Kingsley Amis book, by the way), but I do suffer the same worisome tremors at dealing with editors. In fact, building a writing career is a lot like dating.

My most recent 14-year-old-teenager-in-love-style drama revolves around the project that kept me up until 2:30 or 3:00am for many nights. It’s a great opportunity and something that I’m excited about, but it’s a bit weird. I had to compile, and edit to a certain degree, a huge body of work and somehow make it readable and cohesive. Timelines are always tight and this was no exception. So I did the best I could and shipped it off.

Now I have to suffer through the period of waiting to hear back, like that nervous teenager waiting by the phone. And, in a move of masochism and self-loathing, I decided to occupy some of my time by checking on other submissions. This story has been at that journal for three months, that other piece has been out five months, and so forth.

I’m finding it’s not as difficult to wait for the short stories to be reviewed. I’ve gotten used to that so it usually doesn’t bother me too much. But, as I make tiny incremental steps in advancing my writing career, and as I get closer to actually speaking with nonfiction editors as though they are real live actual human beings, that becomes the tough period of waiting by the phone.

Waiting for a response, for approval, for those words that say you did a good job instead of words that say you’re an idiot and shitty writer and they’re killing the piece. For example, when I send work to my editor at Stuff it’s not unusual for me to hear nothing in response for several weeks. He doesn’t owe me any ego-stroking, he doesn’t need to keep me informed of every edit, in short, he don’t have to talk to me, nada. I don’t want to pester him, so I try to be cool, to assume that if there’s a problem, he’ll let me know. Which is always the case, but the wait is nerve-racking.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t get any easier. There was a day when I hated waiting for the inevitable generic, impersonal rejection letter. Now, that I’m actually speaking to editors, I long for those days of anonymity. Now, the great fear is of disappointing someone personally, an editor who might write, “I don’t think this article is going to work out after all,” but what they really mean, or what you think they mean is, “You wasted my time, you worthless piece of shit, why did I ever give you that assignment?” Waiting to receive that crushing message, or hallelujah, the envigorating message that says, “This is fantastic! Great work!” is awful.

I would imagine that even more successful writers, those precious few that don’t worry about rejection letters or kill fees, have their own version of waiting anxiety. They probably wait for the bestseller list to be released, or for critical reviews to appear. I’m sure you never get to a point where all the anxiety disappears completely.

So now that I, in all my lit-blogging-woman-attracting-jet-setting-luster, don’t have to worry about dates calling me back, I still find myself waiting by the phone, just hoping that editor or agent will call.