Reading Your Own Book
I am sitting on thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of words. I crafted my story and heroine and dramatic arc and epic conclusion. I placed that last period after that last word of that last sentence. I put it there, closed the story, gave myself a grin in smug satisfaction, and sat back as I imagined patting myself on my back. There, I did it. I wrote a lot of words.
And what now? Now, I want to have a burger and milkshake, with that half-smile still plastered across my face, and start looking at expensive cabin retreats on 50 acres of farmland. Because we’re rich now, right? Cause I wrote a book?
But, before I start that, I need to undertake a complicated phase of writing.
I need to read what I wrote.
It would be so much easier if I could distance myself from that. Close my eyes and just push it onto someone else’s desk. Maybe someone else who doesn’t have a kid sitting five feet away asking for help with their magnets-in-oatmeal experiment. But there in the cheap seats sits the world’s best editor for this extraordinary story: me.
It is my job and mine alone. I can’t expect anyone else to read through this assembled jumble and “fix it.” I have to go all the way back, past all those words and punctuation points and clever turns of action and insights, way before that fantastic low point from which no hero could possibly return (spoiler: but she does!), all the way back to that first letter of that first word on that first page that I started so, so, so many years ago. I have to put my finger there and start to read. And rewrite. And reread.
And who was that writer who wrote those words so long ago? Ambitious, young, excited about the story burning deep inside. A kid, really. Young and filled to the brim with mistakes I had yet to make. And did make.
Now I am looking at my son and daughter, children I didn’t even have when I started writing the story. They are asking if we can buy the cabin in the woods on the farm since I’m finally finished with my book. Because we’re rich now, right? You wrote that book?
Now, my sweet little cabin loving angels only now does the heavy work begin for daddy if he wants to really finish his book. Daddy needs to make a visit to that ambitious and young (and handsome!) man who started writing many years ago.
And daddy has to read all of the run-on sentences, repetitious adjectives, and meandering prose segments that are just dripping with brutally tedious world-building detail.
And cut it all down.
Daddy has to viciously hack through a dense word forest. He has to take the story he thought he was writing and chop out a readable story so others can read.
I will plaster some guiding thoughts to the top of my brain to keep from getting lost, a rope tied around my waist to pull me back from the void. This is why she acts. This is the underlying motive. This is the driving force.
How does someone edit tens of thousands of words? I presume the same way they write them: one day at a time. Start at the top of the page and work down to the bottom.
After all, tucked somewhere inside Scrivener’s lines of coding lay morning after morning of my life. Each page is forty-five minutes or an hour when I would hide away and force out five hundred or a thousand words. Or sometimes just a few dozen. How many mornings would I stare at a blank page with no idea of what was to come next? Then force myself to just write a word, any word. And then any other word after it. Then a third. And then I would look at my word count for the day. Three! OK, gotta keep pushing. Start at the top and work down to the bottom.
Reading will be more difficult than writing. Not just difficult, but painful. I won’t be able to criticize it as someone else’s words and cast them aside. They will be my words. They will be the fruit of my aspirations to become a writer. I’ll be looking into the mirror at my dream. Is my effort at reaching for it going to be good enough? Each attempt at creating drama, describing scenery, or conveying dialogue will be a verdict on my capacity to make this thing I have wanted to make and dreamed of making and spent time making for years and years. And years.
And when I get to the bottom of the last page, I’ll know. Is it good enough?
Now I have to do that hard part. I have to really look at what I have made — not just dream about it some more or idle away some time thinking about plots. Not even just stringing words together on a blank page, but look at it as a real thing, because it is born. I have to face myself and see if I did tell a story, and edit and rewrite and convey all that I think I want that story to be. There are these people I created, along with their lives dramas and joys. I now need to reexamine them, edit them, shape them into something I can finally let go of, push out into the world to live among others.
I do wonder if they will ever see the light of day.