Sunday, July 25, 2010


So I’ve been having a totally unexpected reaction to signing my first book contract: pure, unadulterated terror. For the first, oh I’d say, four or five days, I was riding a wave of absolute bliss, but once I got down to work with my editor, the fear began to set in. My deadline for having the final draft in the hands of the Editor-in-Chief is only two months away. I know I can do it—and, in fact, that I will—but I feel terrified that the stories won’t be as good as they could be and that any readers that I can actually convince to buy the book will read it and hate it and never want to read anything by me again.

I’ve spent more time in my life than I’d like to admit daydreaming about what it would feel like to get a book published, and the way it actually does feel never once entered into those fantasies. I think my fear comes, somewhat, from having read so many books in my life that I felt needed further revision, or that I felt had some strong elements and an equal number of weak ones. I don’t want readers to read my book and wonder, “How the hell did this win First Prize?”

Part of it, too, is that I’m addicted to revising. I’ve never looked at a story and felt absolutely, positively certain that the story is as good as it could be, that this is the final draft. It’s one of the main things I struggle with as a writer: how do you know when something is done? And yet in two months, I have to be sure about an entire book’s worth of stories. Even though about half of these stories have already been published in journals, I’ve revised most of them since their respective publications and probably would have continued to revise them forever, except that having them out there as a book feels very final to me. I could continue to revise them after the book comes out, I suppose, but there’d be no point. This is it. In two months, I’ll hand in the final draft of the manuscript, and, with the exception of proofreading, that draft will be the one that readers read for as long as the book is in print.

But now for the upside: I’ve decided to embrace the fear, to let it push me to really whip this book into shape. I’ve gotten some excellent feedback from the press’s fiction editor, and I’ve enlisted the help of a few friends to give me more. And then there’s my husband, who is diligently going through the entire book with me line-by-line, in spite of having read and given feedback on most of these stories before. I’ve put all of my other writing projects on hold for now and am focusing as much energy and attention as I can on trying to polish this book until it shines. And maybe this will be good for me: to be forced to call something officially finished. Maybe this is a leap that all writers must eventually take.

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