Janet Lee Carey-Dreamwalks DreamWalks Janet Lee Carey Award-winning author of novels for children and young adults

The Long Silence

I’m in the middle of a long silence. Not the kind that creates inner peace. (See my previous post). It’s another kind of silence – one that comes from the outside when I’m waiting to hear back from an editor or agent or when, after receiving a rejection, it feels as if a door has closed. This kind of silence feels arrow sharp. It goes down deep and creates painful uncertainty. What is there to learn from this?

Writers are expected to work for long periods of time in quiet isolation. This doesn’t mean we don’t have very full and active lives. But when it comes to our creative writing, we work alone. This is the way it should be. We wouldn’t want others tinkering with our story ideas making helpful suggestions when we are still in the early creation process.

People who need constant reassurance will find it very hard to live the writing life because–let’s be honest — reassurance is rare.

Some of us get feedback in our critique groups. Some of us may only share and get critiques from a few trusted readers, agents, and editors. Other than this, we are alone with the story for weeks, months, years.

If we are marketing a story, or seeking an agent, we are faced with long periods of silence. If we are lucky enough to sell a story, we can look forward to more waiting. Six months to a year can go by between signing a contract and receiving a revision letter from your editor. In these times it’s key to remember editors and agents are swamped. The ones I’ve met are among the hardest working people I know. The long waits aren’t personal. They’re just part of the busy publishing industry.

Fear can flourish in silence if we let it. But if we’ve done all we can to revise the manuscript and send it out in a timely manner, it’s time to go back to our lives and focus once again on our work.

It’s time to breathe. To expand rather than contract.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Art is alchemical. And writing transforms.
Try playing with a new story while you wait. Set your characters on a treacherous path. Fold in fear of rejection and loss of confidence and watch your characters deepen. Throw fiery anger into your story and watch the plot ignite. Run toward joy. Your story will gobble up all these alchemical emotions and turn them into gold. Don’t ask me how this works, I have no idea, but I do know that it works.

Nietzsche says, “We have art in order not to die of the truth.”

Writers can live with the long silences because our stories sustain us.

How do you handle waiting? Pop into comments and let fellow Dreamwalkers know what works for you.

May your stories be your journey food until we meet again.

Dreamwalkers. Walk well.

6 comments on “The Long Silence

  1. So true and well-spoken as usual, Janet. Yesterday I paged through a 1960 coffee table book on the history of music. I found the book in a discard pile and instantly remembered I had spent a lot of time with this book before, when I was very young. This time I spent an hour or so studying the portraits (paintings, then photographs) of composers. These were not your ordinary people caught in a study. These faces were shot through with light. Their eyes were on distant music. They looked lonely but determined. Stay the course, Janet and everyone else who works so hard to create in isolation. We’ll get there.

    1. The book sounds wonderful. I can imagine the “faces shot through with light.” And relate to “their eyes were on distant music.” We plunge into a kind of fierce and lovely daydreaming when we are creating long before our fingers touch the keys or keyboard. I know this is also true with you. It’s good to remember other creatives creating as they wait. Thank you for sharing the inspiration, Margaret.

      1. I have faced this silence for 30 years. I have cobbled together my writing life with the opportunities that have come, all very modest and has been told to my face by gate keepers — “writing with no impact.” And yet I write and draw and create. I let go of expectations long ago. I am not good writing “ton”. I am forever working class. I have worked. I have a stack of novels that I some proud of that my heart could burst. The doors haven’t opened for this work. I continue to keep tapping at doors, but the ever practical (working class) me started full time work in mid fifties. I am left with less time than ever to create and even less to knock on doors. This verse from a song by Billie Eilish resonates:
        I used to float, now I just fall down
        I used to know but I’m not sure now
        What I was made for
        What was I made for?

        I sneak in things and joy at the creative life I have lived. I was made to contribute a verse.

        Walt whispers to my heart: I exist as I am, that is enough, If no other in the world be aware I sit content, And if each and all be aware I sit content.

  2. I hear you Molly B. You have authored more than 50 books for young children. And published some lovey teen novels with penname Cece Barlow. Plumb Crazy is a favorite of mine. I also hear the hard silence you live with around your as yet unseen novels, and your full-time work which gives you so much less writing time. You are inspiring Molly B, and yes, you were made to contribute a verse. You have already and my eyes and heart are ready to read more.

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