I think Tom Petty said it best: "The waiting is the hardest part . . ." Of course, he wasn't referring to the publishing industry, but the sentiment is the same no matter what you're waiting on.
I've done my fair share of waiting in my forty-something years of life (yes, I can say forty-something now, can't I?) I've waited for buses, waited for grades, waited for guys to get a clue. The hardest waiting has come as an adult: waiting to hear if I graduated, waiting to hear if I'd been hired, waiting to give birth, waiting to hear if a sick child is okay. The worst always occurs each time my husband gets deployed to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc . . . sitting by the phone, afraid to leave and live my life each day for fear I will miss that coveted phone call from him, or waiting to hear he is okay when I slip up and read the newspaper or hear a news story or don't hear from him in a few days. Thank God I haven't had to deal with THAT kind of waiting this year.
But, waiting to hear from an editor or agent (or both as is my case right now) can be almost as excruciating. My imagination runs wild each time a day goes by without hearing anything. I imagine one of them reading my manuscript and saying "this is awesome" and the next minute, I imagine a less desirable reaction like, "wow, is she serious? She can't write!" - when the reality of it may be, they haven't even read it yet. Perhaps it is the lack of a deadline that sucks so bad. At least when my husband was deployed, I had a date range to focus on most of the time. But, with publishing, they could say three weeks, and three months could go by before hearing anything.
I try to put myself in their shoes. They are busy people with many manuscripts to sort through, projects they are responsible for editing, conferences and meetings and deadlines of their own to attend to - my one manuscript is not on their minds like it is on mine.
It's kind of like the long lines at Disney World. Us riders, like us writers, wait for eighty minutes in a long crowded line for our thirty seconds of thrill, complaining on the wait, the dead time. But those Disney employees running the rides, like the editors and agents, are working their butts off, running each and every one of those thrills for those in line. They are responsible for all of the trips that roller coaster makes around the track, not just the one each of us riders/writers are taking part in.
So, I tell myself these things and I try to be patient while I stand in that line. I try to focus on other things, work on my new book, or re-edit the manuscript I've sent off (cringing as I find new mistakes, cliches, weakly written spots that I now know eventually they will be reading too!) because I know that when us writers do hear from an editor or agent, that thirty seconds of thrill is so worth it. We scream; we cheer; we're exhilarated.
And yes, when we come back to earth again, we do walk back to the end of the same line or search out a new one, because even though that endless waiting is the hardest part, the ride is so worth it!