October 10, 2013 · 7:38 am
This week, I am finishing the copy edit review of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte and will soon send it back to my publisher for design and production. I find myself having mixed feelings. I am happy with the book, and I believe that with my editor’s help, I have made it a far better book than it was a few months ago.
Yet, I know that once this pass is over, my ability to make substantial changes to the manuscript will end. During the proof review, I’ll be able to fix any remaining typos and grammatical errors, but it won’t be appropriate to do intensive rewrites. Whatever shape the manuscript is in at the end of this week will be the condition in which it goes out into the world. My baby is moving beyond my control.
This will be the first time I’ve experienced this phenomenon to this extent. I’ve worked in educational publishing for 24 years, and I’ve had short stories, poems, and one non-fiction YA book published before this, but not a novel. Unlike any project that came before, this book has taken two years of my life. Sending it out feels like a deeper level of vulnerability than I have ever experienced. I have waited thirty years for this day to come, but I never really thought about what it would feel like. The important thing to remember is that even with something that means so much to me, I don’t have to be perfect. I only have to do the best I am capable of at the time—and I think I can honestly say that I’ve done that.
September 28, 2013 · 8:15 am
Why on earth is there a photograph of a messy paint can on a writing blog?
Yesterday, we had two important pre-winter maintenance jobs done on our house: we hired a handyman to paint the trim and sealcoat the driveway. We live in a climate with both hot and cold extremes, which can be very hard on buildings and pavements. The repainting usually has to be done every five years or so. The sealcoating every other year.
Neither my husband nor I are particularly handy with home repair jobs, so unless it’s something on the order of hanging a picture, we usually have to hire someone else to do it. This time we used a man who’s done a lot of odd jobs for one of our neighbors, so we felt confident that he did quality work. And we weren’t disappointed. He inspected the wood trim of the house carefully, caulked any cracks he found, replaced one piece of trim from which a piece had rotted away, and then applied two coats of durable paint. He was equally meticulous with the sealcoating.
It occurs to me that this process is a lot like what’s going on with my novel right now. The manuscript has started coming back from the copy editor for me to review. In terms of grammar, spelling, usage, and mechanics, the corrections are very light. I’ve worked in publishing for 24 years, so I made sure to send him the cleanest copy that I could. However, he is still finding little cracks and holes in the narrative—places where I could crank up the tension a bit with an appropriate action or gesture and dialogue where choosing a slightly different word might enhance the period feel.
Part of me is impatient to get this stage over with and move on to the production process to send my baby out into the world, but yesterday as I worked through some of the editor’s comments, I realized that I can’t rush this important step. Once the book is published, I will have lost my chance to do any further “maintenance” on it. As with the house repairs, I have a skilled workman performing this task to make up for any deficiencies I might bring to the project. I need to trust him. I need to listen.
In many ways, the important thing about writing is the process, not the end product. Yesterday, I had to learn that lesson all over again. Somehow I suspect that this won’t be the last time.