I have kept myself busy or more accurately distracted because I’m always busy, the last few weeks, so I wouldn’t think about my manuscript. It is off in an editor extraordinaire’s hands, and has been for almost three weeks. But the last few days I have found myself dreading its return and the verdict of what this amazing writer/person/mentor will have to say about it. I think this fear is normal, unless you’re an egomaniac, but as someone who has never sent a full-length manuscript off to someone else before, the experience is new and completely foreign.
The last few days I keep checking my email and hope that I don’t see a message from the person currently working on my book. Because the next time she emails me it will most likely be to tell me that she has finished. And I am terrified about what she has to say about it. I wasn’t ever overconfident about my manuscript, but now having it gone – I feel all of my insecurities becoming facts rather than fears. Everything that could be wrong with my manuscript, must be wrong with it, and I am certain that when I do hear from her (my editor/mentor) that it will be her trying to cushion the blow of telling me how much my book blows. Nice, huh?
Originally, she estimated it would take about two weeks to complete, but I figured I should tack on another week because life happens and she is busy. I know she also had to take a few days off working on my book because of another commitment she had. So that means that most likely sometime this week, I’ll hear the word – the verdict.
Ten days ago, this person (let’s just call her Kat for the rest of this post, so I don’t keep referring to her as editor/mentor/awesome writer, etc.) emailed me and asked me a question about if I had ever tried to use a different structure for the book in any of my previous drafts (of which I have several). I told her that I hadn’t. Yes the last revision meant hacking off the last third of the original book and between the first draft and this ‘final’ draft many things were taken out, added, chapters disappeared or merged together, etc. but I never tried to tell my story a completely different way. I’m not even sure I would know how to.
This email is kind of amping up unease. She said she was “just curious” and maybe she is, but whenever I ask a question and say that I’m “just curious” there is still a reason for the curiosity. Either something isn’t working or I think something could work better another way. And this wasn’t a chapter or a single element, but the very foundation of how I tell the story. If something is wrong with it, I will be essentially starting over. And that idea just makes me tired.
I feel so completely done with this manuscript. The last time I went through it, I broke it into two manuscripts, but that meant I wasn’t finished with the story and the second manuscript was nearly nonexistent, since what I did have served as more of an outline to the first third of the second book, rather than any part of the book itself. I tried to work on that manuscript a few weeks ago when I realized that I couldn’t. I finally resigned myself to waiting to get my current manuscript back. And now, with the prospect of potentially changing the way the story is told completely, I feel all logic and reason reinforce waiting, but oh my God, I am so done waiting.
Maybe it’s worse because the book is a memoir. I mean, while I try to be objective and look at the book as ‘not mine’ it is my life. The part of my life where I was most vulnerable in some ways. The part of my life that killed me (I am being literal – I actually died) and the part where I questioned what life meant, both on some deeper level, but also what it meant to me. I’m a fiction writer, fiction is my home, my safety and I don’t have to own my characters’ lives, actions or words if I don’t want to. But with this book, it’s all me… exposed and naked. The book starts on the day that I died and chronicles my journey back from that death – a very physical journey at first and once I get past that, an even deeper intellectual, emotional, and spiritual one.
I think the fact that I edit books for a living, makes it even worse. I am used to this process from the other side of things. When I ask a question, I always have a reason and I always choose to disclose or not disclose that reason when I ask. Sometimes I work on books that make me excited and I feel like I am just enhancing something that is already great and trying to get it as close to phenomenal as possible. Usually I work on a decent story, but when it comes to the actual manuscript, there are lots of minor and at least a few major problems that need to be taken care of. And then there are times when I try to figure out how to say something and how to be encouraging, but honest because the manuscript before me almost needs to be scrapped completely and the person needs to start over. Sometimes I know there is no market for what someone is writing, and the writing is bad, and it makes me feel like a dream killer.
Right now I am working on a manuscript (as an editor) that makes me feel like I am trying to find how it is salvageable, marketable and doable and coming up short on all three. I know what the problems are, but everything seems to be a problem and I keep trying to zero in on what this book has going for it. Right now for every 100 problems, there are one or two redeeming moments. I know this client cares deeply about her work – it is obvious writing this book was a kind of therapy for her – something I totally relate to and appreciate, but her passion for it, doesn’t change the facts.
The fact is her story is incredibly common and she doesn’t dig deeper within herself to have anything original to say. She doesn’t ever show, only tells, and everything that happens to her is everyone else’s fault, when it really isn’t. It is preachy and judgmental and big on God, when the writer doesn’t even know her scripture among other things. Even religious extremists would feel alienated by this book as it stands now. That doesn’t address the fact that the entire book lacks any paragraphs (I am having to create them myself) and each line of twenty to thirty words has at least eight errors or typos.
This isn’t the norm, but the perfect kind of book to be working on now, because I am spending every moment that I edit this book with this internal struggle: I must be clear on what is wrong with the book and how to make it right, and I must be honest, but I do not want to be a dream killer, I want to be encouraging.
What if my book is one of the ‘dream killer’ projects for Kat? What if it is so bad that while the story is all right, the way I tell it, my scenes, my structure, my character development and my prose itself just belongs in a trash bin instead of in front of someone else’s eyes. I want honesty as a writer, and I want to make my book the best it can be, but I also don’t want my dreams to be extinguished and unfortunately I do not have this enormous ego to withstand feedback that something is so wrong with my book, at its very core, I am at the beginning again, instead of working my way towards the end.
So, this is how all of my clients feel when they hand off their books to me. I am beginning to think that the job of keeping their sanity while waiting is just as challenging as my most challenging project as an editor. When I edit books I always think of my role as the book’s godparent. When I take on a project I want to help mold it into something wonderful, so that it can be sent out into the world and make its parent (the author) proud. I am not supposed to change the writer’s vision, simply enhance the manuscript and bring it to its greatest potential. And sometimes that means being diplomatic about some hard truths. I have never, and will never, tell someone not to write their book or to keep pursuing it – everyone’s voice is valid and everyone has a story to tell – and I believe this with my whole heart. But telling someone they need to start over, showing them all of the problems and how it would be more difficult to fix all of them than it would be to begin again, with these things in mind, makes me feel like a killer of dreams, when I chose this career in order to help make dreams come true.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, and now here I am, on the other side, hoping with all of my being that my dreams aren’t about to be seriously stepped on…
I never knew waiting could be so hard outside of literal life and death kinds of things. But it is, oh it is…