Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oooops...Make That Seven and 1/2 Times

I’m sitting on the pool deck, reading BENT ROAD out loud as I review it one last time before returning it to the publisher. I’ve been sun screened. My sunglasses are wide enough to keep the sun from sneaking into my peripheral vision. A glass of iced tea is sweating on the table next to me. The manuscript is loose, not bound. It’s always windy near the water. A stack of pages lifts up. I jump, stumble over my fallen chair, and before I regain my footing, half my manuscript is floating in our kidney shaped pool. I reach out to slap a hand over the stack of pages that remains on the table, tip my drink, and now the rescued half is soaking up iced green tea.

One of the first questions a writer gets after she finally sells a novel is….so, how does it feel? For a good long time, the writer doesn’t know how to answer this question. How does it feel? Well, the desk that she writes at is still the same. The friends who read and critique her first drafts are still the same. The tea she drinks, the slippers she likes to wear when she props up her feet, the computer she uses are all the same. It feels…the same.

Yes, life is basically unchanged, except then the writer realizes, when she sits down to write, that now someone is actually going to read her work. In tennis, we call it point panic. The player does fine in practice. Her stokes are smooth. Her serve is precise. Her footwork is light and quick. And then she plays a match. It’s no longer practice. Her hands become stiff. Her topspin forehands sail long, her first serve hits the fence and her feet seemingly grow four sizes as she tries to flop around the court.

After this realization that readers will now read her work, a few weeks pass, okay maybe a month. There is much googling and surfing. She becomes well versed in the blog of every editor and agent online. She tries many ways to get started again. She takes her computer onto the dock, but the glare is too bad to write there. She moves to the deck. Too much shade and that breeze is a bit cool. The coffee shop is too crowded, the library too noisy, the house too quiet. After many attempts, she sets aside the computer for a week, takes up bike riding, and when she isn’t paying attention, the point panic disappears. The writer is writing again. How does it feel to sell a book? It feels great. But mostly, now that I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my next novel, I’m happy that my forehands are dropping in again and that my footwork is still pretty good for a gal my age.

After I right the tipped glass, I yell for help. My family comes running, and we fish out the soggy manuscript. Red ink is seeping across the pages, though I haven’t used much because I haven’t found many changes. It’s a copy, right, my husband says, reminding me of what I should already know. Yes, it’s a copy. The original is still on my desk. So I wring it out the water-logged version, write down the page numbers that are smeared with a bit of red ink, and once dry, I run it through the shredder. Then I start again, reading the novel aloud, one more time. When I’m done, it’ll be seven and a half times that I’ve read the entire thing aloud. I’ll still be hoarse come Monday.

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