The book is done.
It is on my editor’s desk and she has not yet phoned me to tell me that it is the worst example of writing humanity has every produced, which is a relief to me, but shouldn’t be. Up until recently I had always thought there was a sort of a safety net in writing. That publishers wouldn’t publish anything really terrible that a writer produced, for fear of embarrassing themselves or injuring their professional reputation. Then I read a bad book, probably not the first one I’ve read, but it was the first time that I read a bad book that it occurred to me that bad manuscripts get published all the time (well, not all the time…but more often than you would hope) and that I, as a writer, cannot attempt to avoid humiliation by counting on my publisher to reject a bad book, and instead, I really needed to write well and critically and I have been frightened to death ever since.
A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
A book is offering yourself up for a public mocking. The author will endure valid (and invalid) criticism about their work, and will have to take to heart that the things that other people say about what they have written. Authors struggle with hearing that criticism and wondering if they really wrote badly…or simply not to their critics taste. There are tons of people who find work that is critically acclaimed rather weary…writing well (or even brilliantly) will absolutely not spare you painful commentary. (The worst is the commentary for things you are not in charge of…like covers, paper, fonts or even titles. I prefer to get slagged for the stuff I can actually have some power over.) Knowing this criticism is absolutely inevitable, should be rather freeing…but it’s not, at least not for me.
For reasons that I can’t describe, I always think making a book everyone will love is just a matter of focus. As my deadline approaches, I work harder….even if the book is technically done. Editing. Revising. Putting things in a new order, rewriting paragraphs….or in the case of this book, Having my mother point out that I had desperately overused a word or two, and then having them be all that I could see on the page. There I was at 1am screaming “Do I only KNOW THREE WORDS! What is WRONG with me!” (It was a particularly low moment. It’s fine now.) I keep scrabbling and working all the way down to the deadline because….well. I don’t think a book ever really can be finished. You could always work on it forever….just like if you had agreed on a day to go into the public eye with your pants down you wouldn’t ever really be ready for that either.
Writing is the flip side of sex, it’s good only when it’s over.
Hunter S. Thompson
In a way, the deadline is good…because it stops the madness. There’s a finite end to how long you can sob at the table, how much coffee you can drink…how many times you can think about getting a better job. Come hell or high water, you have to stop on the deadline and hand it over…and one way or another, that day marks the release from whatever self imposed psychosis you’ve managed to come up with this time. At that point, no matter how insecure or worried you are, at that point you are done. You’re finished. Forced to be finished. It’s time for the book to go on to its next phase of production. It’s both horrifying and, I must admit, one of the most profoundly satisfying feelings of relief I’ve ever experienced. At this point I love the book and I am horribly protective of it, as though it were a small child going off for the first time without me. I also love what my life will be for a few days before I go back to work.
A vacation. No book. No avoiding the book. No thinking about the book….no explaining about the book, no staying home or awake because of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I love the book and I think it’s good and I’m also a little sad to see it leave me and what we made together…but I still sort of want to say “Goodbye my little book. Good luck with the editors, I hope they aren’t too rough with you. I will miss you horribly, and I promise I’ll see you on the other side….
Also…My darling little manuscript?
Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out.