We are in the fourth and last week of Advent. For Christians, Advent is the liturgical season of awaiting the coming of Christmas - the birth of Christ. While outwardly, we prepare for Christmas with decorating and cookie baking and shopping for the perfect gift, Advent is more about preparation of the spirit. Advent is a season of waiting.
Writers are familiar with waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We wait for the muse to strike as we stare at the blank page. We wait to hear comments from critiquers. We wait to hear back from agents and editors. We wait for our book to inch its way up in the Amazon book rankings (how could there possibly be THAT many books ahead of my unique and precious book that I worked so hard at?). Raise your hand if you've ever casually walked past the mailbox and just happened to glance over for the tenth time in a day to see if the mail has come. Or developed carpal tunnel syndrome from hitting the send/receive button on your email too often. Not that I've ever done that, but I've heard rumors from other writers. It would be hard to find a profession that has to spend more time waiting than writers. Maybe being a personal buyer in the former Soviet Union. Although at least at the end of their wait they got to purchase a few onions or eggs. We get form letters.
Back to Advent and waiting. Whatever your religious persuasion, Advent can teach you something about waiting, because the waiting in Advent is not merely waiting in line to buy onions. It is a deep longing that requires us to change; it requires waking up; it requires paying attention; it requires preparation for that which comes.
In my early days of submitting picture book manuscripts, I used to think how wonderful it would be if I had my first attempt accepted and published. I now know how awful that would have been. I would not have been ready. If by some fluke my first manuscript had been accepted, I would not have known how to revise or how to follow up; I wouldn't have really known my own voice. I needed so much more preparation.
Standard advice for a writer waiting to hear back from an agent or editor is to work on your next story. It's good advice, but not just so you can stay busy and be distracted from thinking about how many more minutes/hours/days/weeks/months/years (decades anyone?) until you hear back. It's good advice because in waiting, we need to wake up and prepare; prepare our craft, prepare our insight, prepare our very selves for whatever comes out of our writing - whether acceptance or a form letter.
I think writing is both more and less than we sometimes think it is. More, because it has value no matter what rejections we receive, no matter how inconsequential or mundane we think our writing is. Even if no other eye reads what we have written, it is worthy of our full attention. Less, because even if the whole world reads what we have written and we are on the NY Times Best-Seller list for 2,000 weeks in a row, our writing is less important than our families and our character. Both of those things make the outcome of our waiting - the acceptance or rejection - not as important as our preparation, our own working and re-working.
If all of that sounds just a little too high-minded, and your index finger is dying to click on email or on your latest Amazon stats or Google Alerts, most of the time I'm there with you. And really, being obsessive has its good points too, especially if you write kidlit. How better to channel that 10 year old who can't keep from shaking the Christmas presents one more time and is up at 4:00 am on Christmas morning, or the 16 year old who will die if she doesn't hear back VERY SOON from the cute guy she asked to Sadie Hawkins, except she'll die even if she does hear back...
So waiting is a gift. And no, you can't peek under the wrapping.
For those of you looking for Advent decorations, I made the lanterns below based on some instructions for Star Lanterns at Guusje's Appeltaart website. I prefer to wait until a week or two before Christmas to do the full Christmas decorating, but I still have the decorating bug after Thanksgiving. I painted these purple for Advent (even though they look pink in the photo).