When I asked for feedback, I am not sure I wanted as much feedback as I received. I am used to feedback. I have been tested by the fire of an English major, a doctoral dissertation, internal editors at employers, academic editors, and writing classes where I was probably way over my head. For some reason the words stung as I opened the email that Friday night. I quickly glanced and realized I would need to take some time to really read the email before I would eventually make my way to the text.
At this point in the evolution of my memoir, I had hoped it was tighter, clearer, cleaner – having worked on the text for years across groups, editors, and classes. (It has been available on Amazon for a year.) It had hoped it was farther along. The words “not ready to be published” jumped out of the email. I wanted my ebook to be better, but just how much change am I willing to embrace? What is good enough? Do I want to be just good enough? When do I just submit the text to the e book publisher and soldier on? I suspect these are questions that plague all writers. At what point is work done? At what point do I simply forget this writing thing and stop dreaming and writing all together?
I did not open the text for several days. In the email there were remarks for interpreting the edits – a color coded key that identified awkwardness, lack of clarity, bad metaphors, and sections that needed to be rearranged. My editor had explained in her email that the amount of time we had agreed upon only allowed her to point out weaknesses, not highlight the times when the text sang. (This entire process was made more difficult by the fact I had never worked with her before, so we had no established relationship.) When I finally opened the document, I saw a colorful litany of track changes. I felt weak and deflated. For the first time, I contemplated letting parts of the memoir go, never to be seen in the e book. Not just scenes or moments, but entire essays. She had voiced concerns broad enough to generate a larger reckoning. She had honestly and thoroughly responded to the text. The exact task I needed her to do. I feel sure the text will be better for her careful scrutiny. Truth does not make it easier.
About a month following the delivery of the initial comments, we had a follow-up phone call. I explained that I had not yet made any changes. She shared how hard it is for her to provide feedback when she sends comments to a writer she has never worked with before. We talked through the text – in general terms before diving into several of the essays very specifically and intensely. The Prologue needs to set the stage more specifically. Confirmation needs to focus and be much shorter. What really happens in Reasons for Voyaging? Is the Obama chapter about sour grapes that I did not get to see the inauguration? Prayer Class needs to explore moments outside of class. Chalice In The Trunk needs to tighten and focus as well . . .
We talked for a long time. Our conversation moved between the technical aspects of the writing to the way in which our stories converge and diverge. My memoir is profoundly personal and meaningful to me. As I seek to make it valuable to others as well, it helps to hear questions and critique born from expertise and kindness. Ultimately, that is an editor’s love.