word craft



Working togetherI work on a book for a year, or more, rewrite it end­less­ly, read it aloud to my wife, share it with a friend whose crit­i­cism I great­ly trust, rewrite some more, and it is, I tell myself, most­ly done and not bad. I send it to my edi­tor, and don’t hear any­thing for a while, which is fine because I’m delight­ed to final­ly stop work­ing on that text. Indeed, I start work­ing on some­thing else.

Then I get word from my edi­tor that she has start­ed to read the book. What hap­pens? I rush back to that book and start to review and read. OMG! I dis­cov­er many things that need to be cor­rect­ed, changed, improved. My heart sinks, and I plunge back into the book and start to rewrite—again.

In so doing I am remind­ed of the words of the 18th cen­tu­ry essay­ist and lex­i­cog­ra­ph­er, Samuel John­son: “When a man knows he is going to be hanged in a fort­night it con­cen­trates the mind wonderfully.”

It’s one of the hard­est things about writ­ing: It’s nev­er per­fect. And some­times, truth to tell, it often doesn’t even feel good.

I pick up a pub­lished book by a favorite writer. How come he/she can write so well? Why can’t I do that?

Is it any won­der that the pri­ma­ry occu­pa­tion­al dis­ease of writ­ers is depression.

Is there a cure?

Actu­al­ly, there is. It is to remind one­self that writ­ing is real­ly not a soli­tary art. I once asked pub­lish­er Emma Dry­den how many peo­ple actu­al­ly work on a book. She thought for a moment and then said, “About forty.”


Of course, this includes every­one from the writer, to the folks who work the bind­ing machines, from the edi­tor to the per­son who ships out the books from the mail­ing sec­tion, from the editor’s assis­tant, to the per­son work­ing in mar­ket­ing, to the book design­er and her/his assis­tant and so on and on and on. All make, more or less, a con­tri­bu­tion. For the most part I have no real con­tact with these peo­ple. But they are all work­ing on “my” book. The point is, “My” is a myth.

I can think of only one time when I met this legion of folks. I had won the New­bery and was invit­ed to a gath­er­ing to cel­e­brate this fact at the office of the pub­lish­er, Hype­r­i­on Books. There they all were—the folks who did some­thing to make that book—celebrating our success.

It was hum­bling. As it should be.

Lone­ly writer, fear not. You are not tru­ly alone. Lots of good folks are wait­ing to steer you on and hold your hand, your writ­ing hand.

3 thoughts on “Forty!”

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