The big, Scary, Exciting, Emotional thing I Did with My Manuscript

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field notes on publishing a book, entry #3

The big, scary, exciting, emotional thing I did with my manuscript was I printed it. For roughly $40, FedEx printed and bound my 275-page, 80-thousand-word rough draft; and it is currently haunting my room (and my thoughts). It’s mere existence in the world is baffling; it is substantial and heavy.

i delayed printing it

I had been telling myself for weeks (okay, months!) that I just needed to print it and lean into it with a pen in hand. I was right; now that I have started the editing process with a pen rather than my keyboard, the work feels part of a whole rather than segmented to what I can see on my screen, unimportant.

Despite being so-far proven correct, I delayed printing the manuscript because–I don’t know–because it could be better. I felt I could fix it a little more, fix just one more part before having it printed. What if I had it printed, then had a sudden stroke of genius? Would I reprint it? That would be a waste of time and money, wouldn’t it?

This hesitation went on for months, expecting a stroke of genius to hit me but it never did.

the presence of fear

If I really question my hesitation, I find a stroke of fear that is desperately hoping it will turn into genius. Here I have this very big, very real thing I’ve written and rambled on about to everyone; and what if it sucks?

It probably sucks. I will have spent all this time, energy and emotion writing something that others will call confusing, overly-sentimental and pointless. I often think about what I’ve written and call it confusing, overly-sentiment and pointless.

the first read through

Reading it the first time through was difficult. I challenged myself not to mark it up, to not even make notes on a separate piece of paper. My mind was racing with ideas as I read; screaming at inconsistencies, misspellings and grammatical errors; but I kept reading.

I had moments of utter joy when I saw myself reach an authority and a flow in my storytelling. Other times, I felt like a disaster; like a malnourished thief digging in the garbage for the scraps of the storyline.

It took me a week to read it. Then I flipped the thing back over and started again with pen, notebook and post-it notes at the ready.

the editing process

Editing feels like therapy. I thought writing felt like therapy, but I think the therapy is truly in the editing. Already, I have come to a phrase or a sentiment that I connect with but doesn’t connect to what’s happening around it, and I think, “Is this important? If so, why is this important?” It’s like turning over a rock and discovering all the juicy worms and multi-legged insects that have burrowing deep into the moist soil underneath. With childlike fascination, I know what’s under the rock is just as much part of the story as what’s around it. And I know that one has to get a little muddy to figure out how it all comes together.

The rock is important. Turning it over is important, too.

am I close to done?

If I’m being honest with myself–and not overtly hard on myself–this draft is good. I have read books, specifically memoirs, that have settled for the broad stroke. It’s as if memoirist have rushed through events and sentiments of those events in order to publish.

I wish I could sprint to that finish-line myself; I wish I had the self-possession to dump the 275-page-thing on someone lap and say, “This is it; this is the best I can do.”

But I don’t have that self-possession yet. Nor do I think this is the best I can do; this is the first draft of what I can do. If this process of editing can compel me to see and unearth the hidden things in my story–things I sense as important even if I haven’t been able to name them yet–then won’t that make for a better story, a truer book; something worth reading that I will be proud to have written?

I’m proud of the sometimes-cringey thing sitting next to my typewriter, but I know there is still a long, difficult road ahead before I can call it finished.

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