Monday, May 18, 2009

The Waiting Game

I had a creative writing professor who taught me a valuable lesson as a grad student:
One day, after receiving the thrilling news that my short story had been accepted by a literary mag, I told said professor (with some measure of pride and swelled chest) about this achievement.
He exhaled a plume of cigarette smoke and said, "So? Old news. What are you writing now? Cause that's all that matters."

His words popped my bubble right quick. But I got the picture. You can be proud of publishing a story, but if you're not already working on or finishing the next story, that bliss doesn't last long. You can't say you're a writer if you're not writing. (Except if you're Cormack McCarthy, who I heard can go for months or years without writing a word.)

My topic is supposed to be "the waiting game." I'm waiting for my first novel to be published. I've been waiting for a year and a half now. Things are coming along at the press, and I knew it would be a while before I could carefully plan to nonchalantly pass my novel at Barnes and Noble and exclaim, "Oh my goodness! What do you know. My book!" to the admiring passersby. So I wait. And occasionally bug my wonderful publisher with a coy email. I guess I might be hoping for a reply from her that says something like, "Hey, we've decided to publish your novel earlier than planned. It's coming out next week!"

So I wait, but because I remember that plume of smoke and that unimpressed drawl, "What are you writing now," I'm trying to slug my way through my next novel. Today I'm on page 223. It's summer vacation, I'm officially off duty at the university, and I should be tearing through the pages in this next manuscript. And some days I do. But every day--EVERY day--my heart is still pining for that first novel. Waiting to see it come of age in public, where it will be praised or excoriated, but there, standing on its own merit, outside the protection of my imagination or will. Now, back to the present, the only thing that really matters.