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Waiting is always the hardest part.
You've written a story, first pouring your heart into the rough draft, then editing and editing and editing until your very soul rebelled at the idea of sitting at your keyboard for even one more instant. You had the document beta-read by a group of serious writers, and have carefully judged which comments to act upon, and which ones not to. Then, with equal care, you selected a potential market to submit said story to, looking over several issues of the magazine or perhaps other published collections by the same marque, in order to determine whether your story might be one that they are interested in.
So you formally submitted your work. And now you wait.
Days pile up, then weeks. At first you check your e-mail frequently, and eagerly peer into your snail-mail box. But as time passes, you begin to worry. Why is it taking so long? you ask yourself. Haven't they made up their minds yet? Don't they know I have other places to market this story? Stubbornly, however, your might-be publisher (like the Mona Lisa and the Sphinx) maintains a perfect silence.
Then, one day long after you've given up hope, you finally receive the word you're waiting for. You come across a familiar envelope, tucked in neatly between the electric bill and an invitation to worship at the new Baptist church across town. At first you don't recognize the thing, even though you've seen it before. The address is written in your own hand, you notice; it takes several puzzled seconds before you take in the stamped-on return address of the publisher you wrote so very hopefully, so very long ago.
Suddenly, time stops. You stare down at the publisher's reply, last month's electric bill and next Sunday's Baptist services totally forgotten. The Answer lies in your hand at long, long last!
Have you finally sold a story?
Are you about to join the ranks of published writers?
Has your brilliance and genius and hard work been recognized, or does a cruel, standardized rejection slip lie waiting for you within?
Your heart beats rapidly, your eyes remain fixed on the envelope, your feet are rooted to the ground. You breathe shallowly and rapidly. My Heavens! you mutter to yourself. My Heavens! I can't believe I'm so worked up about this! It's just a damn story!
And that, of course, is the instant when you know, the instant when you finally realize that writing has become perhaps the most important thing in your life, the truth that defines who and what you are. This is the cusp, the denouement, the point in time when you finally open your eyes and discover the true shape of the face that has so long lain hidden away. You wouldn't trade the sense of hope that lies glowing in your breast for a winning Powerball ticket, you realize in wonder. You truly would not! For the first time you truly realize just how deeply things have changed for you since you became serious about writing. How very much your priorities have shifted.
It's the moment when you finally recognize just how much you truly care about your work.
Very slowly you sit down right where you are, still staring at the unopened envelope. Cars pass by, a neighbor jogs down the street, birds sing and dogs bark. But you just sit and gaze downwards, cherishing the moment and wondering at how very deeply your feelings run. For it no longer matters so much to you whether your manuscript was bought or not; you have just learned something important about yourself, something profound and life-shaping and beautiful. You have become a writer, you now realize, whatever mundane profession you might follow in order to put food on the table and pay for a warm place to type. You are an artist, and therefore as free as the wind.
At long, long last, you have found your soul.