When You Put Your Book Aside for a Year

June 7, 2012 · 13 comments

Tonight I opened my manuscript, my travel memoir, my baby.

The date stamped on the Word doc told me the last time I made edits to Please Send Pants was nearly a year ago, in July 2011. I can hardly believe it’s been a YEAR since I looked at my book.

I opened it because I was inspired by Wild, a fantastic memoir by Cheryl Strayed about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m 65 percent of the way through it, my Kindle tells me, and I can’t stop reading. It’s one of those books that so pulls you into the story that you think about it even when you’re not reading, remember the moments as though they’re real life.

The story has natural similarities to mine because Cheryl hiked the PCT alone, just like I backpacked through Africa solo. I can taste her feelings, especially her fear, because I’ve been there. And like Cheryl, I’ve written those feelings down.

Please Send Pants is now in my literary agent’s hands, and though I like to tell all on this blog, it’s smart to leave it at that for now. Besides, the point of this post isn’t to give you a book update. It’s to tell you how it feels to read your manuscript after you’ve put it aside for a year.

In all fairness, I’ve only read the first two chapters. I sent them to my Kindle, so I could read them as though I was reading someone else’s book, with distance and space and clarity. Anyone who’s written a book will tell you it’s nearly impossible to read your manuscript with any of those things, not once you’ve put so many hours and days and years into the story.

In fact, when I date-stamped that Word doc nearly a year ago, I distinctly remember hating the book. Not hating the story itself, but hating the act of working on it so strongly that I could not wait to bury it amongst the files on my computer. By then I’d read it so many times, made so many edits, that each phrase was foggy, trite, hated. I was so sick of looking at that damn manuscript.

But something wonderful happened when I read the first two chapters tonight.

I wanted to make changes, of course. I’ve grown as a writer over the last year, practiced my conversational writing and story-telling through this blog in particular, and I could see places where I wanted to add details or ideas or descriptions like they were already marked with a bold red pen.

But I also thought to myself, Oh my God, this is actually good.

I’d worried it wouldn’t be. I was nervous to click open the doc on my Kindle, scared that I’d want to pull the book from my agent’s hands. But with the fog lifted, with the hatred gone and distance in its place, I could see that the book was good. It was actually GOOD.

Someday — hopefully sooner rather than later — you will all have the opportunity to read that book. And Insha’Allah, you will think it’s good, too.

When was the last time you put your writing aside? When you returned to it, did you see it in new light?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Rae June 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm

That’s so exciting! Reading my own work after a period of time is always difficult because I’m afraid I won’t like it after I’ve distanced myself from it. And it’s refreshing when you realize you actually *like* something you wrote. Good for you! I hope we get to read it very soon also!!

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Alexis Grant June 8, 2012 at 9:46 am

Thanks, Heather!

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Shannon Young June 7, 2012 at 11:30 pm

I’m glad that so far this is a positive experience for you! I haven’t read my Hong Kong travel memoir since the first week in January. It has been in one agent’s hands since then (and with another since April), and I’ve been afraid to change it before they get around to reading it. Like you, I’ve been working on other projects and becoming a better writer, so I think it’s almost time to take another look.

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Alexis Grant June 8, 2012 at 9:47 am

Keep us posted on agents, Shannon!

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Misti June 7, 2012 at 11:55 pm

I haven’t written in my Florida Trail memoir in two months and I’m afraid to open it. In the mean time I’ve been writing my AT memoir in my head. This summer I’m finishing the FT book and getting the AT one written….I keep seeing all of these great books by other travelers and hikers and I’m dying to read them but in an effort to keep my writing style from being influenced I’m not reading them.

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Alexis Grant June 8, 2012 at 9:48 am

Ah, I always read other books, especially when I’m writing — I find it inspiring! Even if it influences my style a bit.

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Emma June 8, 2012 at 9:37 am

This is so timely! I last edited my relationship memoir (about rediscovering who you are when your life plan goes to sh*t) in May 2011. Like yours, it’s been in the hands of my agent. I’m getting ready to dust it off, but I’m stalling a bit, mostly because I’m afraid of how much work I’ll be tempted to do on it.

I read an advance copy of WILD to review on my blog (like me, Strayed was divorced before 30), and I LOVED it. I was not the least bit surprised that it inspired Oprah to start up her book club again. Enjoy the rest of it!

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Alexis Grant June 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

I’ve got to find the story of how Oprah came across it… I was shocked that a book about a woman hiking became so popular, no matter how good it is. I’m happy for Strayed that it did, though!

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Linda Gartz June 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

I just finished Strayed’s book, Wild. I agree–it pulls us along on her two journeys, the PCT and her inner journey–to heal from her mother’s untimely death. The interweaving of her hike and broken soul is brilliant, and it’s inspired me too, although my memoir has nothing to do with hiking. It’s shown me how I can interweave memories of my parents with my search through their diaries and letters to discover how distance, madness, and an unfettered work ethic eroded their relationship. Cheryl has written a book for the ages. I can’t wait to see your finished memoir as well!

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Alexis Grant June 8, 2012 at 9:51 am

Yes! Linda, I found that SO well done as well… I thought it was just because I’ve kind of studied how to weave other parts of my life into my main story, but perhaps even folks who aren’t writing memoir would notice how good she is at that!

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Natalie Sisson June 10, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Great to hear you faced your fears on reopening your memoir. There’s no harm in putting a project aside so long as you dust it off and do get it out to the world. I finally got 90% of my book proposal written on my flight the other day which I’ve been putting off for too long and it feels great. It made it much more `doable’ when the publisher who sent it said she’s seen great book proposals in just 4 pages. Suddenly this thing that I was making into something so big wasn’t actually that scary.

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Bonnee June 11, 2012 at 1:54 am

The last time I put mine aside was at the end of last year, and then I picked it up again at the start of this year, knowing that I’d be able to see where I needed to editing or fix things. The thing with reading your own book is that you KNOW how it’s supposed to read, and when you’ve made a mistake, you might not pick up on it so easily.

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Heather June 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I love the idea of reading your book on your Kindle, as if it’s another author’s work. The “distance and space and clarity” that you describe are so difficult to find when reading your own writing, especially on a platform where you can easily make changes, such as Word. Reading can so quickly slip into editing, and not always for the best!

Thanks for the recommendation for Wild–I’m waiting for a copy at my local library.

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