I work on a book for a year, or more, rewrite it endlessly, read it aloud to my wife, share it with a friend whose criticism I greatly trust, rewrite some more, and it is, I tell myself, mostly done and not bad. I send it to my editor, and don’t hear anything for a while, which is fine because I’m delighted to finally stop working on that text. Indeed, I start working on something else.
Then I get word from my editor that she has started to read the book. What happens? I rush back to that book and start to review and read. OMG! I discover many things that need to be corrected, changed, improved. My heart sinks, and I plunge back into the book and start to rewrite—again.
In so doing I am reminded of the words of the 18th century essayist and lexicographer, Samuel Johnson: “When a man knows he is going to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates the mind wonderfully.”
It’s one of the hardest things about writing: It’s never perfect. And sometimes, truth to tell, it often doesn’t even feel good.
I pick up a published book by a favorite writer. How come he/she can write so well? Why can’t I do that?
Is it any wonder that the primary occupational disease of writers is depression.
Is there a cure?
Actually, there is. It is to remind oneself that writing is really not a solitary art. I once asked publisher Emma Dryden how many people actually work on a book. She thought for a moment and then said, “About forty.”
Of course, this includes everyone from the writer, to the folks who work the binding machines, from the editor to the person who ships out the books from the mailing section, from the editor’s assistant, to the person working in marketing, to the book designer and her/his assistant and so on and on and on. All make, more or less, a contribution. For the most part I have no real contact with these people. But they are all working on “my” book. The point is, “My” is a myth.
I can think of only one time when I met this legion of folks. I had won the Newbery and was invited to a gathering to celebrate this fact at the office of the publisher, Hyperion Books. There they all were—the folks who did something to make that book—celebrating our success.
It was humbling. As it should be.
Lonely writer, fear not. You are not truly alone. Lots of good folks are waiting to steer you on and hold your hand, your writing hand.