Slow Telling of a Story 3: Reeling

I started this series of blog posts back in January, to share a little bit about the process I’m in right now of getting my book Darkwater published.

At the beginning of January, I shared the story of submitting it to various publishers, and how it was eventually picked up by Boyle & Dalton. At the end of January, I shared that I had two great phone conversations with the folks at Boyle & Dalton, who gave me a clearer picture of the process that still lay ahead. They told me the big thing right now was to wait for the developmental editor to complete his work on my manuscript. Then things would kick into a higher gear. In both of those posts, I shared my anxiety, how hard it was to stay calm and patient while nothing seemed to be happening.


That is not how I’m feeling right now. Yes, I’m anxious. Yes, it’s hard to stay calm. But not for even remotely the same reasons. Right now, it’s hard to even imagine how I felt back in January. I have owed you part three of this “Slow Telling of a Story” for some time now. I could have written in at several points in the last month or so. So I’ll try to write it in a few blog posts this week.

The first big moment came on February 20, when I received a copy of the developmental edit. It came as two documents: one was an annotated copy of my manuscript, and the other was a chapter-by-chapter commentary by Brad, the editor. As I mentioned way back in January, a “developmental edit” is a big-picture review, looking at overall flow and structure. From what I’ve learned, developmental edits often call for major rewrites. They can be difficult to swallow, hard to digest. (Sounds like poison in that metaphor.) Brad’s edit of Darkwater was no exception to this. It was rough reading. On my first reading through it, it felt like he was tearing my work to shreds. Every chapter was covered in red ink; the commentary was filled with sentences like, “this chapter has no narrative at all and “the narrator comes across as arrogant and boring.” And because the subject matter of Darkwater is an unflinching look at my own life’s story, it felt like he was tearing my inner self to shreds. To Brad’s credit, he recognized this; he wrote, “I want you to know that all criticisms of the narrator are feedback on the character created on the page and are not personal indictments of the author. Sometimes with a memoir, it can be difficult for the author to keep a healthy barrier between those personas.” Amen, brother. It’s difficult for me to keep a healthy barrier anywhere in my life. So, the first moment I could have written this blog post was in the first few days after February 20, where my emotions went through a series of stages something like this:

  1. I am worthless and useless. Everything I have experienced was stupid and wrong, and I have fooled myself into thinking I’m interesting or worthwhile. Yet again, I thought that I had changed, and was actually important.
  2. No, that’s not it. In fact, Brad explicitly said that’s not it. It’s not about me, it’s about my writing. My life may be worthwhile, but my writing is atrocious. Everything I wrote was stupid and wrong, and I’ve fooled myself into thinking that anybody other than friends and family would be interested. I’m no writer. Yet again, I got arrogant, and overstepped my place.
  3. No, that’s not it either. Both Brad and Emily (the CEO of Boyle & Dalton, who has been my primary contact) said that I have the “writing chops” to do the work necessary here — but that work is necessary. And that’s terrifying. I thought this was a well-structured, well-designed manuscript, and now I can see the holes all over it. I don’t think I have the skills, or the time, to do this. Yet again, someone saw potential in me, but I will fail them.
  4. Alright. Hold my beer. Let’s do this.

One thing that really surprised me was how quickly I was able to go through all those stages. I think in an earlier phase of my life, it would have taken me weeks or longer just to get out of stage 1. But this time, I made it from abject misery to excited typing in just a few days. And I think there are a few reasons for this.

  • Both Brad and Emily made it crystal clear that they believed I could do this. They both told me that my story has real potential, that it wasn’t yet ready for prime-time, and that I could get it there. Looking back, it feels like they could see a gem within the stone I’d submitted to them, but there was some more chipping and polishing necessary to fully release it.
  • My dear friend Pete made some time for me the day after I received the edit, and we had a long discussion about it. He affirmed me and encouraged me, as he always does. (I might as well plug his outstanding podcast here, Mission: Rejected. Check it out.)
  • All my work that led to the writing of Darkwater has made it easier for me to identify the “Dark Voice” that speaks to me. It was the Dark Voice who kept saying You’re worthless. You can’t write. Yet again, you will fail. Yet again, yet again, yet again. And identifying him is an amazing tool. Sometimes — not always, but sometimes, and certainly this time — just recognizing him makes him disappear like a puff of cigarette smoke.
  • I recognized that Brad was right. His criticisms were valid. There was some work to be done. I just needed somebody to point it out to me.

So, yeah. I could have written this post back at the end of February. I didn’t, for at least two reasons. One, my feelings kept changing. and I didn’t want to blog about it until I had some clarity on how I felt. And two, once I did have that clarity, I was itching to do some rewriting, which I started with great abandon, so I didn’t want to spare any writing time on the blog.

And I’ll tell you how that rewriting is going in the next blog post, hopefully later this week.

Image by Roger Mosley from Pixabay

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