This past week I sat down and read While He Was Away in galley form.
Actually, I read it through for the second time, having read it through for the first time as an ARC—i.e., as the Advanced Reader Copy that my wonderful publisher Sourcebooks sends out for publicity purposes. I don’t have many ARCs of my own (they are a precious commodity), and so instead of marking up the pages of my copy with pen or pencil, I used Post-It notes to flag changes I need/want/hope to make before the book really, truly, finally and for the last time goes to print.
In the end, that particular ARC looked like this. So many Post-Its, it could take wing and fly away in a strong wind. Please note: I would love to turn these images upright, but I don’t know how yet, and besides, this is kind of how this week of reading felt anyway.
Flagging pages like this took me back to the long, chilly spring when I was studying for my doctoral exams. I passionately loved what what I studied—the books and articles on African-American Women Writers, Ethnicity in U.S. Literature, Cultural Criticism, Love and Sexuality in Women’s Fiction. I lived in a heated whirl of Post-Its.
This time reading, however, it wasn’t passionate love I felt as much as a kind of mother-bearish-vigilance, which is, I suppose, love, too. I didn’t want anybody (and by this I mean, ESPECIALLY MYSELF, my own limitations) to get between me and my cub. I was watchful for sentiment, inconsistencies, purple prose, general glitches in grammar and punctuation. To my mind, there were still a few issues—and commiserating with a few writer comrades, I learned that there are ALWAYS (or usually always) issues. Even at this stage of the journey, after being edited by the likes of my editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, who has the best pair of editorial eagle eyes that a writer could want.
So then I read through the galley and found a few more issues. Just a few. Sigh. It was a long, hard, good week. I faced my old enemies: self-doubt and fear. I called upon my old friends: humility and tenacity. Faith and hope, they paid a visit too. And I’m wondering now if part of writing is saying . . . let it go. Just let it go. But when do I say that? At what stage of the journey?
A couple of years ago, I heard the memoirist/poet Mary Karr speak at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing. I loved many things she said, but one thing I loved in particular was her comment: “I am not so much a writer, as a rewriter.”
I agree with Ms. Karr. For me, work isn’t so much about vision as it is about revision. It’s about seeing again, in a new way. It can be scary, ripping apart and reconstructing a sentence or paragraph or chapter that I’d thought was tightly woven. But it seems to be the only way I can do it (at least so far). Still, I’m wondering about the letting go, the stopping. Oh, there goes my cub, wandering off into the woods. She will be all right. She will thrive.
I suppose this applies to the way I live, too—to the way I love, parent, befriend, and move through the world? I suppose, perhaps, it does?