Picture taking a baby for its first check-up. The doctor says, “You know, this child has six toes and is missing a finger.”
“Doctor, really?” You respond in surprise. All along you’ve seen the extra toe and the missing finger and honestly done your best to ignore them. Maybe no one will notice. Maybe they’re supposed to be that way. Maybe it’s a brand new look, an advance in natural selection that will become the better, more perfect norm.
“No.” The doctor shakes his head. “That toe’s got to go. Just be brave and move it.” Then he takes your hand. “Trust me. It’ll be fine!”That’s what it’s like as I wait with trepidation for a meeting with my friend and now editor, Marina Budhos, about my latest manuscript, Pasture of Heaven. She’s only the second person to read this new draft, and though she and I have spoken briefly while she’s been reading, today we get to “roll up our sleeves.”
It will take several hours to discuss my next steps. I already know she’s got suggestions and “ideas.” I love when she uses that word because it tells me I’m not alone in my efforts. She won’t just say, “I hate it. Cut that whole section. I don’t like the voice.” She’ll give me suggestions and options that will help me figure out how to fix the problems.
No writing is ever perfect, not even when it’s tucked between hard covers and assigned an ISBN. Though I cannot help but wish that mine will be the exception, I go to this meeting knowing that it won’t be and preparing myself to embrace why.
Not too long ago, I did the same for Marina, reading her latest adult novel, Sweetness, a sweeping historical that crosses two continents and touches a third. I adored it, and yet I had “ideas” for her, too. We spent hours reviewing my comments and considering the directions she could go. Together we mapped out a path for revisions that she now tells me she’s actually enjoying setting into action!
I can only hope I’ll feel the same way soon.
No one can see, truly and critically, their own writing. Most of us turn to fellow authors or hire freelance editors for this kind of facilitation and fortitude.
Gone are the days when we could rely on the publishing house’s editors or agents, when they would spend hours discussing a manuscript, lend authors their isolated beachfront summer houses for a month, or when they’d rush out of bed at a drunken midnight call to pick an author off the floor of their grubby apartment vestibule, inject them with coffee and prop them up at their typewriters, nursing them through to the final period of their latest, greatest masterwork.
In the movie, Stranger than Fiction, Emma Thompson plays a famous novelist who’s been blocked for so many years that her publisher sends her an assistant, played by Queen Latifah. Acting as part therapist and part literary drill sergeant, this Godsend stands by the author’s side night and day as she finishes her manuscript which is late, as I recall, by almost a decade. I adored this movie which is about art, life and the strange line where the two cross, though I couldn’t help but snicker at the absurdity of such authorial indulgence!
But I have Marina, which in every way is better. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with my work. Without the pressure or expectation of the commodified publishing world, she and I will work together, tossing her thoughts and mine like the salad she’s promised us for lunch until the mix is just right, the recipe prepared and my creative juices flowing to jump in and devour the next revision. We’ll share tea and manuscript pages covered with arrows, cross-outs and strange short-hand that requires an interpretive key. Along with substantive suggestions, we’ll also share the anxiety that only another author can fully comprehend when we finally come out from our solitude to reveal the strange child we’ve been incubating for years.
As I face this trial, my greatest comfort is knowing that Marina is a more than my friend; she’s a professional. She’ll make fair, logical and educated suggestions, not couched in kindness or sympathy, fear of hurting my feelings or a need to be right. She’s a peer and a mentor, as I have tried to be for her. So I will take my courage and my car keys in hand and face the editor who only wants the best for me, as I have always wanted for her.