Following that breathless moment, when you hold every molecule of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your chest until your lungs are seared, that moment when your first five pages, your synopsis, and your query letter are loaded into a polite and professional “Dear Agent” email, that moment when your mouse pointer hovers over the send button, what comes next?
You close your eyes, exhale, and then you click send or tap the button and whoosh--it’s gone. You take another breath, and the whole world seems quieter.
This instant of courage, this gathering of your guts to send the sort of email that had better not have typos because of your audience, that had better have an interesting first five pages, a beautifully written first five pages, an exciting synopsis, launches your life into a holding pattern.
And by holding pattern, I mean holding your breath every time you check your email, which you do countless times in a day. You even check your junk email folder again and again, sending to the digital circular file missives from ADT, politicians you never reached out to, pharmaceutical companies that want to end your ED now (even though you’re not a man), and discounts from stores you’ve never shopped at. You hope the agents you’ve queried don’t send your email to the circular file.
You’d be happy for a slush pile.
You mark your calendar. Four weeks out for a hopeful response. At eight weeks, you’ll start to think either the agents you queried aren’t at all interested in your book, or they’re interested enough to not have sent a form rejection yet. At twelve weeks, you’ll probably presume they won’t request a full. On the sixteen-week mark, you’ll write them off as rejecting you but hold on to a sliver of hope that maybe they won’t, maybe they’re just inundated, maybe they just haven’t seen your five pages yet.
What do you in that time to keep from going mad? I’ve got three ideas for you. They might not stop you checking your email way too much, but they’ll help quiet or at least redirect your thoughts.
Start a New Writing Project
When I submitted my final thesis for my MFA, I knew I needed to keep my mind occupied while I waited to hear if I would pass or not. In the back of my mind, I knew I’d pass, but I didn’t want to proclaim as much to myself until I had it in writing from my mentor. I knew too that I had at most two weeks to wait.
Working on a new project seemed the best way to keep my paws off my mail app, so I wrote a book. I didn’t intend on launching into a new book like that, but by the time the two weeks passed and I heard from my mentor, I was into this new story so kept going.
By the middle of summer, I had a draft of The Red Fletch, the first of my Alys Fletcher books. Somewhere between finding out I would graduate and actually attending graduation, I decided I was going to finish The Red Fletch and edit in time for #pitmad on Sept. 5.
It took tons of work, many late nights, and often pushing my poor, tired eyes past the brink of dryness into gritty blinking. But by Sept. 5, I had a manuscript ready to go. I participated in #pitmad and got some retweet action, but no agent action.
No problem. Not everyone does, as Twitter can be a catch-as-catch-can platform since it moves so fast. Or maybe none of the agents who would be interested in The Red Fletch participated in #pitmad. Or maybe they just weren’t interested.
For whatever reason, I’d entered into the realm of being ready to query agents. I’d started my agent research earlier in the summer but hadn’t gotten that far because I was so busy writing and editing. Art first, selling art later. But I poured into my agent research the kind of time and energy I’d given over to editing, and a week later, I queried ten agents.
That’s ten of those breathless moments.
After I queried those ten agents, I knew I had to occupy my mind with something else. I started working on book two. So far I have it plotted and I’ve started drafting--though the drafting has been slower this time around due to life-things like teaching and having a new dog in the house.
But we’ll get to that in the next section.
The reason starting a new writing project is my top suggestion is not only will it occupy your mind, but maybe by the time you hear from an agent, you’ll have a new short story, or a chapter or two of a new novel.
Start a New Hobby
Dog training is my new hobby. This is mostly because Grayson needs it, but it is time consuming. I adopted Grayson on #pitmad day actually, so his timing was really quite perfect. While not every moment has been bliss, he certainly occupies a lot of my time and focus. He’s a fearful dog, for whatever happened to him before I adopted him, for his lack of socialization before he came into my life, and for whatever other reasons.
But I love him, and that brings me to my advice about starting a new hobby: make sure it’s one you love.
In the past, the following hobbies have been among my favorites:
Reading (still doing this of course)
Playing piano/composing music
Baking (I’ve gotten back into this one lately as the weather has finally cooled)
Drawing (even though I’m rubbish at it)
Video games (still play these sometimes)
All of these have helped me in times when I was waiting for news. Plus, sometimes you can get nice gifts out of a hobby for birthdays and other gift-giving holidays. (I saw Halloween wrapping paper this week, and I love journals. And scarves. Just saying.)
If you don’t already meditate, there are a number of benefits in addition to keeping yourself from going mad while you wait to hear back from agents. And there are as many ways to meditate as there are genres of literature. Maybe. I didn’t actually count, but there are a lot.
Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my meditation techniques in case you need one to try.
This one is the first type of meditation I ever did, and I liked it so much for its simplicity that it’s part of my regular repertoire. It goes like this:
Breathe in for one full second, then out for two. Repeat three times.
Breathe in for two full seconds, then out for four. Repeat three times.
Breathe in for three full seconds, then out for six. Repeat three times.
Breathe in for four full seconds, then out for eight. Repeat three times.
Breathe in for five full seconds, then out for ten. Repeat three times.
If I’m still awake at this point (sometimes I’m napping by then, to be honest), I reverse it so I start with step five and work my way back to step one.
In this meditation, I close my eyes and picture myself somewhere else. It can vary depending on what I feel like I need that day. The beach on a moonlit night, a cedar forest, my own private dojo...whatever I feel will be calming for me at the time.
I imagine myself interacting with the space. Moving in it. Smelling it. Listening to it. Sensing it. I stay there for however long I feel I need to.
Hint: This can be really useful for getting into new settings in a story, too--so it works great with starting a new writing project.
Listen to Some Theta
Binaural waves like theta waves can help the mind with a number of tasks. Theta happens to be great for meditative states, and I have it on my sound app. In fact, I’m going to start playing some for my dog too because he could use some meditation time.
In addition to helping with meditation, theta waves can spark creativity while reducing anxiety. I’m not typically an overanxious person, but sometimes the world gets to me. Sometimes even my historical research can get to me. For example, I’ll sometimes do research that involves learning about all the dangers people used to face that we no longer face in first-world countries today. Sometimes, for some reason, this makes me feel a little anxious.
Whether you believe theta waves can induce healing as they’re widely claimed to do, I can at least attest to the fact that when I put these waves on my sound app--these seemingly silent tones as the human ear cannot detect them--I feel relaxed. Maybe it’s a placebo effect, or maybe they really work...but does it matter?
If something makes you feel at ease, I say run with it so long as it’s not hurting anyone else.
When All Else Fails…
Alright, I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes even after trying these methods, I still check my email with the same level of frequent obsession that my dog reserves for looking for chipmunks.
These methods aren’t a fix-all. But they do help, and maybe you’ll end up with a new story, some personal and inexpensive gifts that say you really care, and bursts of creativity. So even if you try all of these and still feel the need to look for emails back from agents after you’ve queried them (or lit mags after you’ve submitted short fiction), hopefully these activities will help you deal with what to do while you’re expecting.
Have you tried these methods to help deal with post-submission stress? Share your story in the comments.