expectations

We have about eight inches of snow on the ground today. I stole a few moments yesterday, sat at my dining room table, and watched the flakes fall against our black Buddha that sits at the corner of our patio. It occurred to me that the publishing process is a lot like watching snow fall.
So many expectations go along with both— a major snow storm and the making and publishing of books. We knew it was coming, all of the forecasters warned us. But they said it would start around noon yesterday. Surprisingly, we woke up yesterday to a soft sprinkling of the white stuff already. It shifted and changed form throughout the day. Soft, barely visible, almost misty, at times. For awhile, icey pellets bounced off my plastic lawn chairs. And finally, the big puffy flakes that make up Currier and Ives scenes landed softly across the lawn and patio.
Books change focus and structure, too, when you are writing them. When I first began the biography of Mrs. Rowe, I found that I became bored. How could that be? Her life was fascinating and worthy of study. It spoke to me on so many levels. Why the boredom? I finally figured out out that it was the linear structure that bored me. Once I broke out of that by exploring creative nonfiction techniques, I was hooked again.
Countless revisions later, and now a new form completely, the cookbook/biography, has been through at least two substantive edits at the publishers and yes, I made even more changes. I did not think it was possible to revisit the book, let alone make changes to the narrative and recipe headnotes. I followed my editor’s judgment because, by this time, the book had been so revised and I had lived with it so long, that I knew I could no longer approach is with any kind of freshness. Thank goodness for good editors.
Now, I await the copy edit. This is a completely different kind of editing at a big publishing house like Ten Speed. When I worked as an editor at nonprofits in the DC area, we did all of it—substantive, copy, and production editing. A lot of editors I knew were made to just be copy editors. They loved the logical side of language, knew style manuals like the back of their hands. They also loved to mark-up pages with their red-ink. I used to think they took a perverse pleasure in making writers squirm. But as I got to know them, and got over my own ego (okay so, I still have work on that sometimes), I saw them as educators. If I allowed myself to pay attention to them, I actually learned how to be a better writer.
I am not talking about the sexy, fun part of writing. I am talking about the roll-up-your sleeves, sit-in-front-of -your-computer- until-your-eyes-ache writing process. Understanding what copy editors give you can help you write with clarity. And if the purpose of your writing is to communicate, they are usually your best resource. Professional writers understand that—at least on an intellectual level.
But sometimes even that does not make the impending copy edit easy. A part of me looks forward to seeing it. After all, this is a part of covering of my ass. I certainly don’t want there to be any major grammatical flaws or flaws in the structure of this book. The other side of me is holding my breath : JUST HOW MANY MISTAKES HAVE I MADE? Have I made the wrong word choices? Are my subjects and verbs in agreement? Oh, and then there’s always that tense thing, a real challenge. Just exactly how embarassing will this be?
The truth is, of course, we all make mistakes and need to learn to “fess up” to them and learn from them. And, ohmigoodness, I have made some big mistakes in my writing over the years and yes, I have learned from them. At least I hope I have. I am sure there’s more for me to learn. Maybe this copy edit will teach me a thing or two and that’s never a bad thing. The manuscript will come to me, with thoughtful marks that will give me pause. The marks will give me a new level of understanding.
So, I while I am waiting, watching the snow, I am also thinking about my lawn Buddha, a big black lump on my patio, almost covered now. I wonder if there is something to be learned by his watchful posture, his eager acceptance, and letting go of expectations, surrounded by the white and cold. He seems unaffected. As is the weather man, who shrugs off his own error with a grin. “We try our best.”

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