Originally posted on my old blog February 14, 2017
The song on my spotify playlist is "Wait for It" from the Broadway play Hamilton, and it's pretty much the theme song of my writing career. And possibly my life. It's a mantra for me. I have extremely severe anxiety that makes commonplace things like standing in line at the grocery store really formidable challenges. Standing still, waiting. People ahead, people behind. Nowhere to go, nothing to do but sit with my anxiety, with the rush of worries and thoughts and millions of things that could go wrong between point A and point B. If getting groceries is hard, and that's just one random example, setting huge goals like writing a novel and getting it published is like Everest.
Because there are so many opportunities for rejection and for things to go wrong along the way.
And there has been so much rejection. I tried embracing rejection before I began the querying process, and it actually worked out quite well. I spent a year writing and sending out short stories and built up a small resume for myself, and during part of that time, when I was nearing the point when I was going to start querying, I started logging my rejections. I tried to make it into a project and invited others to join me, imagining some great uplifting community event, but it didn't really catch on. It did help me become more comfortable with this everyday part of putting myself out there, which is having the door slammed in my face. Long ago and far away, I was an actor, and I couldn't sustain that. I had to ease myself back into the big, icy pool of NO.
But NO isn't the worst part.
One of my therapists from long ago and far away used to sternly prescribe that I "sit with" my anxiety, rather than avoid the things that triggered my panic attacks. I'm older now, and it's harder.
I discovered Hamilton a year or so ago, a little later than everyone else, and like everyone else, fell in love really hard. I was always a fan of Alexander Hamilton the person, and fascinated by Aaron Burr the person, though not so much in a sympathetic way. But the character is great. And Lin-Manuel Miranda draws him in such a way, and Leslie Odom Jr. plays him in such a way, that I can't help rooting for him.
I'm not like him at all. My anxiety propels me to be in constant thought and motion, to churn out absurd amounts of work, and my instinct is to be impulsive and to say what I think, for better or for worse, like Hamilton.
But that's not a good thing.
It's all well and good to write like you're running out of time to someone else, who just says, "wow, that's a productive human being."
But here's the thing.
The person who writes like they're running out of time has got a serious anxiety disorder. In Hamilton, Alex sings "I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory, when's it gonna get me? In my sleep? Seven feet ahead of me?"
Dude is obsessing over death constantly. Now, Miranda probably wasn't alluding to as anxiety disorder, but it's what he's describing.
I love Hamilton, but when I listen to My Shot, I get both fired up and tense. I'm like "Yes, Alex! Revolution! Also, if you ever want to talk about those recurring obsessive anxious thoughts about death, I can pass along some really helpful resources."
Then, a few tracks later, we get Burr's big song. Wait for It. And I have my new mantra. Because it's everything. Repetition. Reassurance. Self esteem reminder. And everyone has their own stuff that helps with their anxiety. Exercise and diet help a lot of people. Exercise is really tough for me, because increased heart rate immediately convinces my brain I'm having a heart attack. But singing is like waving a magic anti-anxiety wand. I'm sure there's some science behind it, but I haven't read any studies to support it yet.
So, if you've written a novel, you know waiting is more than half the battle. It could take you years to write it, and waiting could still take longer.
My novel did not take years to write, and every single time I hit send on a query letter, a feeling of doom settled over me. How long would it be until I got a yes or no?
My anxiety is so intense, that receiving a rejection was less painful than checking my email and hearing nothing.
I was lucky, and this didn't go on for all that long, relatively speaking. It can be years. For me it was months. I also chose to query quite a few agents at once, which some people caution against. But the waiting was too tough. I decided to do batches of ten at a time, which I think a lot of writers choose to do, but I didn't wait for all ten to respond before sending more out, because anxiety.
Then, when I got requests, I was filled with invincible joy!
For five minutes.
Then the agonizing waiting began again.
And back to my song.
I am the one thing in life I can control.
I am inimitable, I am an original.
I am not falling behind or running late.
I am not standing still, I am lying in wait.
And it doesn't end.
It never does. When the call of your lifetime comes, and your dream agent tells you the most amazing and humbling things about your manuscript, for a few minutes, hours, you're done.
But that's not the end. You have other agents to speak with, you have a contract to sign, you have edits to complete, even if they're minimal, you need to get that manuscript ready. Then it goes out on sub.
And it all starts over again.
So if you're like me, even a little like me, not severe anxiety disorder like me, but nail biting, can't take the suspense of constantly sending your work out and not knowing what will become of it like me--you need a mantra.
A theme song.
An empowering anthem to get you through, to help you sit with your discomfort.
I offer you mine,