Recently I played on a softball team and got some coaching on hitting. “Wait for it,” said my friend, Doug, as he lobbed the ball. A slow pitch comes at you from above, like an apple falling from a tree. It’s very hard to gauge when to swing, and I’m usually wrong.
At first I swung and swung, connecting with nothing more than air. “Wait for it. Let it drop into the zone,” he’d say patiently, letting fly another pitch.
Eventually, I learned to wait for the ball to enter the space in front of me, about waist high. When I hit the ball, it felt soft. Suddenly I knew the meaning of the phrase “sweet spot.” If I waited until just the right moment, it was easy to hit, and felt perfect. Now I could hit them out into the field over and over. But if I jumped the gun and swung too soon, the ball spun backwards, or popped off foul. Too late, and the hit was so harsh it hurt my hands.
Waiting is a big part of the writing life, too. Waiting for readers to finish, to give feedback. Waiting for editors to buy. Waiting for agents to give a thumbs up.
All those kinds of waiting are what I’d call external waiting. But there is also internal waiting, and this is what’s hardest for me right now.
I finished yet another draft of a book I have been working on for several years. I’d taken extensive feedback from a year or so ago, and reworked most of the book. I thought the book was ready to shop around. But I worked with kid lit editor Emma Dryden over a long weekend at Better Books Marin in October. Her critique was to the point: You are starting at the wrong time in this character’s life. This meant that the entire opening was useless, and the world building I’d done there was wasted.
Not a small thing to swallow. I had no idea how I’d go about fixing the problem without writing the whole thing again. The notion froze me in my tracks.
Later in the conference, she counseled all of us kid lit writers to let the manuscripts on which we’d gotten feedback sit in the background as we digested all that we’d learned over the course of the conference. She said that our subconscious writer minds needed time to mull over what to do next.
This is what I mean by internal waiting. It feels like doing nothing, just as I felt while standing at home base, watching the ball come at me, waiting for the time when I could see that it was in the right place to hit. Those split seconds feel like a year when you are nervously hoping to get on base. It feels like I am doing nothing as I let the story stew and I reread and study my notes from the critique group, the lectures and my own journals during that conference. I have to trust that I am sorting things out even as I do nothing at all for this story but wait.
While my writing seems to stand still, my thinking doesn’t. It is moving in a slow arc, bringing my story into focus. This meditation will get it in just the right position. Once it’s there, I’ll be ready to swing and send it flying.