I’ve been working on edits pretty much non-stop since I sold my debut novel (along with mourning my poor dead cat, getting married, going to Chile, and unfollowing relatives on Facebook). There was the big developmental edit. Then came the line edits, then the copyedits. There might have been another edit in there that I forgot about. Now I’m at the point where there are no more edits. The revision handcuffs are on. The ARCs are out. Everything that I could control — the work — is out of my hands.
I am officially in the Oh Fuck Phase.
For years, I’ve been asking for manuscript feedback and have received it and have done my best to shape my novel into something publishable. But at the ARC (Advance Reading Copy) phase, you’re just spitting wishes into the wind. Sometimes the wish lands, sometimes you just end up spitting on yourself.
The life of a writer is full of waiting — for ideas, feedback, acceptances. And the life of a writer is full of fear (unless you’re one of those writers). Writers deal with fear when we submit our pages to a workshop for the first time (or the tenth). Or ask someone to read our draft. Or sign up for that conference session, where an agent will review our work and we hope beyond hope that they see the hint of a diamond somewhere in all that dirty coal. This private, joyful thing that we nurtured in the safety of our creative cocoons is set free, asking the world to love it (or at least not violate it in a Goodreads review).
I’m a planner. I prepared for this phase by preparing for the worst.
I collected all of the non-constructive feedback that people have given me during various workshops and writing group critiques and restaurant meet ups. I armed myself with the worst things that have already been said about my writing or me (why stop with just the writing when you can Cry for Everything Bad That’s Ever Happened) so that any new words won’t penetrate my confidence. And I have my gif ready for when the bad reviews inevitably roll in:
But now that I’m actually in this out-of-control phase, my perspective is shifting.
I had the opportunity to attend Harvard’s Commencement Ceremony when Oprah was the speaker. The first, and only other, time I’d seen her speak in person was during a women’s leadership conference at Simmons College. In junior high, my friend Angie and I would watch The Oprah Winfrey Show while on the phone with one another. We’d exclaim or laugh or cry at whatever the guests said, and then we’d talk about our feelings during the commercials. So it was big deal to see her in person. But unlike the Simmons College address, she seemed off her game at commencement: overwhelmed and a little starstruck by all those Harvard brains. I had felt the same way when I moved to Boston. “I’ve never met a Harvard person before!” I exclaimed in my still-thick southern accent when I first met a Harvard undergrad. I even touched her arm, E.T.-like. I said similar things when meeting Catholics and gay men in college. I’d only ever known Southern Baptists and straight people. (I realized I was gay after I moved to Boston. Maybe because I touched those gay boys on the arm. If you read my book, you may turn gay, too.)
One thing Oprah mentioned during her commencement address stuck with me, though. And I keep thinking about it as I journey ever closer to my pub date. She relayed a story about how Beyonce had come on her show. After the interview, she asked Oprah, “Was I okay?” Beyonce, THE QUEEEEEEEN. Nervous? Seeking validation?
In light of this recollection and my slow acceptance that I must relinquish control, I’ve begun to toss the list of All the Terrible Things. I replaced it with this file on my desktop instead:
Instead of binging on food to cope with the fear and anxiety, I’m binging on Project Runway. But it’s not just an escape. It’s been helpful to watch creatives in a different industry present their work for critique challenge after challenge. Sometimes they falter; sometimes they wow.
In Season 14, Edmond created a GORGEOUS black dress. I fell madly in love. I would wear that shit everywhere like Miss Havisham: to bed, breakfast, cycling, scrubbing the toilet, you name it.
The judges HATED it.
The good news is, in publishing we don’t have one winner at the end. We win our individual events, and we’re usually only in competition with ourselves. We win when we have the courage to submit. We win when we get back up after a hard critique. We win when we complete a manuscript. Many writers don’t get that far.
In these pop-culture moments, I’m reminded of subjectivity and opinion and the search for acceptance. Like Oprah, we sometimes stumble but we can come back and kill it. Like Bey, we just need a little confirmation that we’re okay. And after years of always expecting the worst, I’m coming around to this idea of hoping for the best.