Today, I am sending a new manuscript to my editor. I’ve been working on it for a year. I’ve shared it with no one. While my wife has a general sense of what it is about, I’ve not even read it to her, as is my usual practice.
All of this makes me quite nervous, not least because I’m not sure I have achieved what I set out to do. Some books are easier to write. Some are harder. This was one of the harder ones. In part that was because I didn’t go—as originally planned—to visit the site of my tale, something I thought was necessary to do. Twice I had air tickets to go. Twice—because of Covid—I backed away. Before the book is truly done, I may have a chance to do that. I have no doubt it would help the book.
But I suspect there was another, more important reason I struggled. There have been times when I have had an idea for a story, thought about it, tried to define it, shape it, and got it into good enough shape enough to engage an editor/publisher. Then when push comes to the pushing of the computer keys, it turns out I hadn’t thought it out well enough. That’s to say I really wasn’t sure what I was doing.
One editor of mine once described this kind of manuscript as comparable to creating an exoskeleton, which is to say a rigid external covering for the body—think of a lobster shell—with not much inside. Or as an editor once said to me, upon rejecting a book, “It has no salt.”
But it is also true the sheer amount of concentration and re-writing of a book over a lengthy period of time—can make you blind to what is good and/or bad about it.
The truth is if I had the time, patience, or resources, to draft a book, then put it aside for a year, and then come back to it, I would gain a much greater perception of what I’ve done, or not done.
I’ve never been able to do that.
The best I’ve managed is to reformat the book—change of font, margins, the color of paper—things to trick the eyes. That can help.
But I will read it to my wife, ask some trusted friends for a reading, learn from their responses and then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
And then there is this forbidding fact: If the book is truly done—if I actually write “The End”—then I have to start another.