When the finish line is in sight, sometimes we panic

January 19, 2011 · 11 comments

During a recent phone conversation with my agent, she said we were almost ready to approach publishers.

I suppose I knew that, but hearing her say it out loud made it real. It made me incredibly excited — and slightly panicked. Because I realized that this might be the last time I revise my manuscript before we pitch it to the people we hope will buy it.

Each time I’ve revised this book, I’ve aimed to make it the best it can be. But knowing that these could be the last significant changes I make before my manuscript is judged by a panel that really matters, that got my pulse up a little bit.

I know my book is in good shape. I’ve been writing and revising for nearly two years, had input from more than a handful of helpful readers, worked extensively with a critique partner and incorporated ideas from my agent. The story arc is solid. It’s free of grammatical errors. I’m confident in the book as a whole.

But suddenly I found myself panicking over what I’m sharing with the reader. Do I really want everyone to know that about me? Am I sure it’s okay to say this about that person? Am I ready to go public with the feelings and dreams and aspirations I reveal in this story?

Because to write honestly, I had to block out what everyone else would say. I had to forget about how a family member or friend would feel if I included a certain detail about her. At some points, I even told myself that no one would read this story, that it was just for me. Because that’s how you get memoir onto the page.

But now I’m at the point where someone else will read the book. And not only read it, but decide whether it’s good enough for the world to read.

So as part of this revision, I did something special: I asked my sister for help. Over the last week, we’ve read through the entire manuscript together, chapter by chapter. My sister isn’t a writer, but she’s exactly the kind of reader I needed this time around, one who would help me think through what’s okay to share with the reader, whether certain stories will alienate friends or family, whether I should feel comfortable with what’s on my pages. All 300 of them. Because while this is just a book, and I get to decide what’s included, I am putting myself out there with this memoir.

I owe my sister big time for this one. When I finish this revision (just a few more days now!), I’ll feel comfortable with the manuscript, from beginning to end. Ready for this sucker to hatch.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Alyssa January 19, 2011 at 8:15 am

The end is in sight! I’m so happy for you. And this post is so so relevant in any nonfiction. I’m writing an essay right now and I keep having to remind myself to construct it as if no one will ever read it; that’s the only way to get the good stuff out. A writing teacher reminded me of that recently, and I’m glad to have you to do it again.

Still, I REALLY like this idea of having your sister vet the manuscript for any tweaks so as to not upset family/friends. In the end, it’s important to write like no one is reading, but when it comes to publication, our relationships are what matter most (I think you actually may have told me that originally on my blog, haha).

Anyways, great post and excited to see what comes next for Please Send Pants :)
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Alexis Grant January 19, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thanks, Alyssa! And nice to feel like others struggle with the same issues. The cool part is that we haven’t changed much of anything in that regard. There’s one character (friend) that she says I’m too harsh on, but she’s a minor one, and it doesn’t hurt the story to pull back a bit. She’s also really great about telling me when she hits a part that’s a bit slow, so I’ve been able to make a cut or two, which is always nice!

I want to hear more about your writing!

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Alyssa January 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Definitely! I’m working on some personal essay-type stuff (Someday MFA samples in an ideal world…? Still need a lot of work though!) in my ‘boot camp’ with Lisa Romeo :) I’ll fill you in soon…
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Emily January 19, 2011 at 9:11 am

OK this post made ME nervous while reading it. Like, good nervous. It’s really happening! I’m so excited for you!
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Peggy Frezon January 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

So glad your sister helped in this way. I had the same fears with my ms. At one point I complain that I was ending up unattractive and overweight just like my mother. I’m going to have to apologize to her about that one before the book is released!
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Andrea James January 19, 2011 at 11:09 am

Your headline can apply to a lot. There’s something about finishing and publishing that always makes me pause. Gives me flutters.

Every work could always be better. But, when “could be better” starts reaching “never,” then we need to realize that existence of a completed work is more perfect than one that is never finished.

In college philosophy, I remember debating this point about God. The teacher argued that God must be perfect, and therefore he must exist, because non-existence is not perfection. Existence is perfection. Perfection is existence.

Weird circular logic. But there you have it.
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Katie January 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm

I’ve worried about this very thing a LOT – though I’m still at the get-it-onto-the-page stage, so I have a ways to go before I really have to panic. Still, it’s a real issue, and an important one – because I don’t want my writing to alienate the people I love the most.

So, so excited to watch your process take shape – and when your book “hatches,” we’ll break out the virtual champagne!
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Alexis Grant January 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Virtual champagne sounds awesome! And hopefully when I do my BIG BOOK TOUR, I’ll get to meet y’all in person. (Cuz that will happen, right?)

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Kim Kircher January 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Alexis,
Congratulations on finishing this round of revisions. I’m here to tell you, though, that once an editor offers a contract (and I’m sure one will), you might very likely have more revisions. I’m in the midst of my second round with my editor. The great thing now is knowing that the revisions are specific and geared towards the likes and preferences of the very person who is going to bring my book to the public. Good luck!

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Alexis Grant January 23, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Of course! But I like to mark these little milestones… Otherwise I feel like I’m *never* finished, ya know?

Good to hear that your revisions are specific and helping improve the book! Thanks for chiming in.

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