I turned in the preface and first three chapters yesterday morning. And now we wait. My subject and I worked on the pages together, and she pronounced herself very happy with the result, but now we would like the editor and publisher to be happy with them, too. It definitely helps that my subject has approved them. Perhaps that means the additional edits will be lighter, we shall see.
I don't usually turn in any pages till I have a full draft, so it was interesting to note the different approaches I have when drafting the story versus when I'm preparing the manuscript to be turned in. I'm rough and ready in the former stage, forcing myself to just get down the words, to tell the story plainly, trusting lyricism to find its way in, if not in the first draft, then later. There's a forward momentum to the process, an energy to keep going, knowing that you will be able to improve what's there in subsequent passes.
It's different when you're trying to get a piece to the level of polish needed for its release to judge and executioner. You're reading in an entirely different way, literally weighing every word, listening for the rhythm of the sentences, the pacing of the narrative, figuring out how much telling you can do before showing—building actual scenes with dialogue, allowing the reader to see, hear, touch, smell, and relate emotionally to the action.
I swear I read those first twenty thousand words more than a hundred times, until it all began to seem incredibly flat (fortunately, I now know this is a real stage, the conviction that everything you've written is drivel). And then, on Sunday night before I was to email the chapters to the rest of the team, I suddenly realized why I couldn't stop fiddling with them. It was because the very first paragraph kept bothering me. It was okay, it was serviceable, it did the job we wanted it to do, but something just never felt quite right to me. And suddenly, on maybe the one hundred and tenth reading, I knew exactly what I needed to do the fix it!
Honestly, it was a thrilling moment. It simply entailed changing the paragraph from the present to the past tense and pulling a sentence from the middle of the first page to be the opening salvo, a far more immediate entry, set in the consciousness of my subject, rather than in the consciousness of people in the room looking on. It was internal emotion and wonder versus external description, and it reminded me why, as hard as this process often feels, I love what I do. There will be further changes of course. I am also an editor, and I understand the value of the editing process, a necessary collaboration. How many times have you read an almost brilliant book and thought, if only it had been more bravely edited?
So I'm talking about writing again, because this is how my days are being spent right now. It's all consuming, really. But yesterday I went for a walk with my friend Jane. We call these walks our bench tour (as in "Fancy an afternoon bench tour?"), because we walk the garden paths from one bench to another, sitting for a while on any bench that is drenched by sun (it was below freezing out) and chatting about our lives. She is heading to London for a solo vacation today, and was feeling a lot of stress about that. She shares my travel anxiety, which probably means she will be just fine once she actually arrives. Steve, I told her I have a friend in London who I could reach out to on her behalf in a crisis. I hope I didn't overstep! I'm pretty sure there will be no crisis, and that she will have a wonderful time, with no one to please but herself.
In other news, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Biden's standing to authorize student loan forgiveness this morning. On the day applications for forgiveness opened last fall, my two kids and my niece immediately applied, so that when my husband and I, hearing on the news that the portal was open, called to let them know, they reported, oh, we already sent everything in this morning. Their diligence put them among the 16 million applicants who got the proposed portion of their loans approved for cancellation before the legal challenge to Biden's program was filed, though the actual forgiveness is on pause pending the outcome of the litigation. In my daughter's case, this would wipe out the remaining portion of her federal student loan entirely. I do hope everyone else who stands to benefit will be able to do so once the court rules. But with the current composition of the court, that is hardly a given.
It's currently snowing in New York City, the first real snow of the winter. I'm imagining being in a room with a stained glass window as serene as the one in the photo up top. It reminds me of when I spent two charmed weeks at Yaddo twenty-three years ago now. My children were babies then, and my mother came to stay to help out while I was away. I remember my cousin Karen joked to my husband, "I hope my niece and nephew are being cared for to the same standard as when their mother is there?" "Oh no," my husband told her. "The standard is much higher. Their grandmother is here."
He wasn't lying.
Happy Tuesday, my dear friends.
I'm off to visit you all.