Learn How to Jam

How Engaged Waiting Empowers Your Writing Journey


No. 123 | By Christine Carron

It took me years of dancing Argentine tango (and a second trip to Buenos Aires) to land the traditional art of being asked to dance with just a gaze. The leader’s move is to make eye contact and then nod toward their partner of choice. That is called the cabeceo. 

The follower’s role in the exchange is either to hold the leader’s gaze to indicate, “Absolutely, I will dance with you. Let’s go!” Or alternatively, to graciously slide their gaze away, indicating, “No, thank you.” This nonverbal yes/no is called the mirada.

In the US, some tango communities dispense with the cabaceo/mirada business and just have a verbal exchange, so I did not have a lot of practice with the mirada. And, goodness, does it take practice.

Hello, Awkward Learning in the Moment

I definitely had some awkward moments. Tango halls in Buenos Aires are often crowded. So you may be sitting at a small table with other dancers all around you. You scan for a gaze/nod from someone possibly as far away as the other side of the hall. (Somewhat stressful for me being nearsighted and wearing contact lenses. . . .)

One night a couple weeks into my sojourn, I thought I nailed it. Cabeceo received. Check. Mirada-in-the-affirmative landed. Double check. Hold the gaze. Hold the gaze. Hold the gaze.

The leader was about five feet away when I stood up, ready to dance. At that same moment, another follower stood up and walked right up to the leader, cutting me off. Doh! I felt awkward, embarrassed, and like a total cultural bumpkin. I must have misread the situation, and, as I was planning on leaving after the next set anyway, I retreated early, slipping into a taxi and giving myself a little compassion and grace.

The next day, I asked one of my tango teachers about it, explaining exactly when I stood up. “No, no, no,” she said. “You wait in your seat until the leader is right in front of you and offers their hand.

Waiting is Wow!

That small adjustment changed everything. It was a bit extraordinary, really. At dances, I felt calmer, more sure of myself, more in charge of the invitation-to-dance moment all because I was able to wait just a few beats longer. 

Often we think about waiting as a skill of Patience, which it is. My takeaway from that experience, however, is that waiting is also very Power-filled.

That awareness has so many useful applications for creative productivity. It’s also an idea that on the surface seems to be in direct conflict with the hustle culture we live in, which lifts taking action above all other parts of the creative process.

When I was looking for inspiration for this piece, I found the following quote that perfectly exemplifies the inner tussle we might feel when choosing to wait—a sentence often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln:

Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.

The not so subtle subtext: You will miss out if you aren’t constantly in action, hustling to make it happen, increasing your word count day after day after day no matter what, and bowing to the pressures of your Inner Critic, Your Inner Pusher, you Inner Perfectionist. If not, buh-bye opportunities. Buh-bye writing dreams.

But what if that notion just backs us into a corner of forced action? What if it’s actually power leaking? What if true power means having choice and in charge'ness over your responses—be they activity or rest—not arbitrarily letting hustle culture drive how you engage on your writing adventure?

Engaged Waiting Is Not Passive

The general perception of maxers (folks who are totally caught up in do mode) is that anything less than full-on doing means you’re just sitting around being passive: 

You think words are just going to write themselves?”

“You think an agent is just going to ring your door bell and offer you representation?” 

“You think an editor will just swan over and offer you a deal?

That is a misperception (and a somewhat harsh one) about the power of waiting.

It is a very either/or view of waiting, with waiting losing every time. What I learned in Buenos Aires, however, is that engaged waiting is very active. Any of the following actions would not have been engaged waiting:

Decide that I was never going to go out tango dancing again. 

  • Writerly non-engaged waiting equivalent: Deciding after a few rejections to give up writing. 
  • Writerly engaged waiting equivalent: Managing your mindset around rejections and staying focused on moving your writing dreams forward. 

Going out dancing but looking down the whole time.

  • Writerly non-engaged waiting equivalent: Not querying because you might get rejected.
  • Writerly engaged waiting equivalent: Setting up a smart process around querying that helps you move through rejections and keep going. 

Grabbing a leader and “forcing them” to dance with me.

  • Writerly non-engaged waiting equivalent: Never giving your ideas and/or your creativity space to take root and bloom. Always expecting yourself and your creativity to be “on.” (Really this one is not waiting at all but it creates a nice range with the other two examples.)
  • Writerly engaged waiting equivalent: Designing a writing process that is sustainable and that replenishes both your creativity and productivity, which requires both activity and rest, i.e., waiting. 

Waiting is An Art

My three examples cover a range possible waiting styles from exiting the game, to playing the game but not really, to jumping in too soon to avoid the discomfort of waiting.

When you learn the art of engaged waiting your writing adventure will transform. Stress will go down, despair will subside, and you will feel (and be) more in charge of your adventure. It’s pretty cool.

Plus, you will experience many unplanned, unforced but highly delightful surprises along the way. Case in point, I found out a few nights later, when that same leader cabeceo’d me again—and I remained in my seat until he was right in front of me and offered his hand—that he had actually intended to dance with me that other night, but because the other woman walked in front me, he didn’t want to embarrass her. “I’m glad you came back,” he said.

Me, too. 

Step into the Dance

How do you know when to wait and when to act? That requires you to pay more attention to the edges, textures, and contours of your creative flow. It requires that, yes, you may need to slow down on occasion, to give your creativity, your energy, and yourself time to bloom. 

To let go of forced productivity and to allow flow creativity. It’s about trusting your intuitive timing. Trusting that you will recognize when your creativity has caught your eye and is walking toward you, and then holding its gaze, holding its gaze, holding its gaze until it is right in front of you and all you have to do is . . . step into the dance.

You’ve got this!

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