The Book: to publish – or not?

Dave Heuts via VisualHunt dot com photo credit
Photo credit: Dave Heuts via VisualHunt.com

I’ve finished typing the last pages of The Book and have finally – with a mixture of relief and trepidation – sent it off to my advisor for editing and feedback.

It’s a great feeling to have it gone because, to be honest, The Book is now etched into my eyeballs, all 60,000 or so words of it. I’ve read and reread the bloody thing so many times that I can barely stand to look at it any longer.

Good grief, did I actually say that?  I sure did, and I meant every word of it.  I’m pretty sure, though, that once I’ve taken a break and established some distance, the excitement will come roaring back.

After all, this memoir has rumbled and fizzed inside me for almost exactly a quarter of a century, and getting it out there on my computer screen has finally happened because it grabbed me all those years ago and wouldn’t let go.

If I’m typical of memoir writers—and I suspect I am—writing these intimate stories of parts of our lives takes us down into the earthy realms of gut memory and feeling, where the shadow elements of our personalities like to hang out.  And at first glance, they’re not necessarily anyone you’d want to bring home to meet the folks.

SHADYI suppose all writers (except possibly those who cheerfully churn out books without wasting much mental energy on such things as grammar, character development, spelling, and the like) inhabit those darker territories of mind and heart.

Myself, I’ve sweat blood over the writing of The Book, bared my inner life to a point that feels akin to standing on a busy street corner in a trench coat flashing passing cars.  It’s a memoir, after all, so that’s par for the course; but being the normally private person I am, I’ve thought approximately a zillion times that I should just recast The Book in the third person and call it fiction.

In fact, I tried that at one point.  The Book wouldn’t let me.

Probably anyone who writes has experienced that phenomenon:  you write and write, blithely imagining that you’re controlling what goes onto the paper or the monitor, when suddenly, to your great surprise, a piece you’re working on begins to assume a life of its own.  It won’t go where you want it to go.  It deviates, over and over.

Being abnormally patient, somewhat pig-headed – and yes, I freely admit it, controlling, – I wouldn’t have believed such a thing was possible…until it happened to me.

Book-Flying
Photo Credit:  Click on image for link to Santiago Casares’ website

True to form, I fought this tendency.  I deleted the piece and began again.  Same outcome.  Then again.  And even yet again.  Now I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but I’m not stupid.  Eventually I acknowledged defeat, gave up, and let the writing have its way with me.  That was when I learned not to bother trying to fight the impulse; amazing things can happen when you’re in the zone and you allow your muse the freedom to come out and play.

melted chocolate FINAL

Another odd thing has happened in the course of writing The Book:  I’ve managed to become so melded with the story that I’m finding it nearly impossible to stand back and look at it objectively.  I’ve been writing and editing my own work for many years, so I’m accustomed to setting aside my Writer cap and donning my Editor hat to look at my work from that point of view.  There’s never been a problem.

Until now.  This time, I’m too close, much too close.

Thank goodness there’s another pair of eyes out there to take on the editing task at this point.

Another thing.  Now that I can see the light of day at the end of the writing tunnel, yet another side effect of writing The Book has hoved into view.  For months now, my only goal has been to write as honestly as I can—memoir being about a person’s truths, after all—and I’ve not faltered.  I love being an armchair psychologist, trying to tease out the meaning of my life experiences and my responses to its challenges.  So in that sense I’ve had no confidence issues, no worries. Writing, writing…and more writing.  What’s to worry about, right?

BLAH FINALWell, holy surprise, Batman.  With the writing part moving into the editing and fine-tuning process, now I’m suddenly beset with fears and worries:  What if it’s boring?  Maybe it’s too wordy, or too maudlin.  What if it’s too long-winded? Weird? Intense?  Nerdy?

I’m torn between wanting my advisor to be absolutely frank – brutal even – about its failings, and the relative comfort of knowing that she will, as always, make her points in the kindest possible way.  This woman is wise as well as good at her job.

I trust her.

But still….What if it’s just plain AWFUL and she will finally have to burst my bright little writer’s bubble?

Wow. Oh my, I’m being attacked by that old writers’ nemesis:  self-doubt.  Any self-confidence I might once have had appears to be slithering straight down the drain like shampoo in the rinse water.  I’m just slower than most to realize it.  (I said I was smart, not swift, okay?)

Normally that kind of hand-wringing doesn’t happen now that I’m older and presumably a bit wiser, because I’m usually not much bothered these days by the question of what other folks will think.

However, book marketing is all about what other folks will think of my work.

COMPETITION FOR POSTThere’s a long row to hoe between writing something and getting people to read it.  With the advent of self-publishing, the business of publishing and marketing books, never an easy one to break into, is morphing into an entirely different animal, and the competition for readers’ valuable reading time is stunningly, frighteningly fierce.

And I’m having serious second thoughts about joining that melee.  It’s true that writing is an important part of my life, but perhaps publishing—and marketing—aren’t my be-all, end-all, after all.

The thing is, I have many interests, not least of which is being with my Dearly Beloved, who has waited patiently for me to come out of the basement where I’ve lived like a mole for months now, hunched over my computer keyboard, working on The Book.

Photo Credit: Jorge Cham, PhD Comics (click on image for link to PhD Comics website)

I also enjoy a number of other hobbies and creative interests that have been quietly mouldering away in the back of my studio as I indulge this obsession.

It may well be that The Book will go back to being simply a story I’ll offer to family and long-time friends, a kind of personal history for those who’ve loved me, to say “This is me, your mother, your grandmother, your friend.”

Or I’ll decide to enter the fray and see what happens.

Either way, I’ve fulfilled a task that’s haunted me for a quarter-century.  And my kids will finally have the story of their mother’s journey through her mother’s mental health issues and, in turn, her own.

Time, as always, will tell….

Namaste,
Susannah

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16 Comments

  1. The really important part of writing is writing. The rest of it is purely elective. I wouldn’t even be bothering with marketing my stuff right now if it were not for some people, friends and people I don’t even know, who’ve read my books and found them important personally to them. That’s my whole motivation. Any other motive doesn’t ring true to me.

    An important part of writing anything is knowing, envisioning, who you’re writing for. If you get that right, your work will not be boring, wordy, nerdy or anything. To my Swiss Medievalist Historian friend, the 500 page wordy and overwritten version of Martin of Gfenn was fascinating and he loved it, but he would have been the ONLY person in the world, I think.

    It’s really good to get away from your book for a while. I didn’t look at Martin for four years and then, when I did, I could see it for what it was. I didn’t have the money to hire an editor and, anyway, I wanted to master the thing I had not before understood. Truman Capote mentored me. After that, I understood my writing, my style, my problems, that I had control over the “how” not just the “who, what, when, where” so I had a good idea what I had to deal with. Then I learned to let my friends help me proofread. And then I hire an editor.

    I’d learned from Martin of Gfenn not to fall in love with my work.

    Writing a memoir takes guts – it’s the willingness to put your life in front of people because you believe something about it is important objectively. I don’t have that kind of courage. Congratulations on finishing and getting rid of it! If you want more eyes, I’m here. ❤

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    1. Martha, thank you for sharing your knowledge; it’s so helpful! I began my book as a “family history” for my kids, and the publishing idea only took hold when it occurred to me that my approach might be helpful to people coping with mental health issues in themselves or their loved ones, or just struggling in middle age to “find themselves.” If it remains simply my kids’ history of their mother and her family, well, I’ll at least have accomplished what I set out to do in the first place.

      I think you have a great deal of courage, from what I’ve gleaned reading between the lines of your blog posts. And I can’t get over your generosity in offering your “eyes”! And I’m offering my own right back to you as well. I’m a killer copy editor as long as it’s not my own stuff I’m working on. (And I work at everyone’s favourite price, too: $0)

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      1. Thank you. I don’t have anyone who needs the story of my family. My niece fights her battles with her insane inheritance and I can’t help her much, but we talk openly about everything. But she’s lost and still running and I can’t save her from it at this point (she’s 35).

        My mom (I’m now sure) struggled with a combination of narcissism and depression. She was (to me) abusive, cruel and dishonest. As a result, aspects of my personality will never be “OK” but I owe my “for-the-most-part-OKness” to her sisters who helped me grow up and helped me see the truth when I was in my 40s and my mom was dead. It’s amazing how a crazy person (my mom) can actual conjure a reality and more-or-less brainwash the kids to live there, in a false place. And the kid won’t know without help that the place isn’t real and the kid will struggle as an adult to reconcile his/her experience of reality with the illusion in which they grew up. Anyway, one of my allies (besides my aunts) in that journey was — of all people! — Eminem…

        My mother makes a cameo appearance in Savior. As I was writing, and she began to emerge, I thought, “Well damn. Now you’re doing something useful.”

        But I loved her and I feel a lot of compassion for the things she struggled with (my dad’s illness, her disillusionment over life and God). Evenso, she was, as my Aunt Jo said, “No friend to you, Martha Ann.” I think your kids will be very, very grateful, Sue. ❤

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      2. My mum struggled with mental disorders too, although she wasn’t knowingly cruel. I was a serious, sensitive kid, so she had a big impact on me.

        I’m adding to the picture I have in my mind about you: oh, you’ve got courage, for sure – and furthermore, you’re obviously strong and resilient, to have survived what must have been an often agonizing childhood as well as you did. Such hurts! My heart goes out to that little girl, and to grown-up Martha Ann too! ❤

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  2. So incredibly proud of you, Mama. For your commitment to your passion and for seeing your vision through to the end.

    I cannot wait to read your “first” book. 😊 Love you dearly, Patti

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Rob. That’s exactly how I feel. I’ve edited prose (my own and others’) for many years, but for the life of me, I can’t keep my Editor’s cap on when I try to edit my memoir. Oh, I’m fine with the little things like punctuation and grammar, but content editing? Things like character development, storyline? There’s just no way; not nearly enough objectivity. Far, far better to have a set of professional eyes do it for me!

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      1. I had a trusted reader for a while, but it’s all on me right now. I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with editors that made me think most of them are frustrated writers. If I ordered a dozen sons-of-bitches and they sent me one editor . . . I would not feel cheated.
        But then it may well be my attitude that gets in the way. 🙂

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      2. Ya think? 🙂 Seriously, if your experience with editors hasn’t been positive, I don’t blame you for having an attitude. Professional editing doesn’t come all that cheap.

        I figure I was lucky, especially since I’m a newbie at all this; I met my advisor at a writing workshop, took a liking to her immediately, and (on the theory that if you don’t ask, you don’t find out), asked if she would be willing to take me on. She’s a prof, the non-fiction editor of a literary journal, and has her own business as well, so I didn’t really think she’d do it. But she said yes, and I’ve learned a great deal from her in addition to the editing.

        I must say, though, judging from your blog posts, you do a very nice editing job entirely on your own!

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      3. I had my book professionally edited, and I learned a lot about tendencies I have (or had) in my writing. I was lucky to find an editor I could work with.
        Thanks for the kind words. I study editing one to two hours a day. I have about a hundred books on the subject, and I’ve read each one three or four times. It’s how I get my head right before I start writing each day.

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