When Your Book is Coming Out Soon
There are remnants of an old outline on the whiteboard in my office. A few points are partially erased from being bumped and moved around over the months. It sits, crooked, in the corner, gathering dust next to a pile of books that are dog-eared and worn out. Books about Christian dating, biblical manhood, and how to be a princess for your future knight. It was interesting carrying these books around for months. I wanted to explain everywhere I went: “This is research!” But I didn’t.
The outline was one of the first, a preliminary brainstorm among many, many drafts. It changed quite a bit over the course of the book-writing process, and I moved on to a less transient system, writing instead on 3x5 cards and arranging them on the bulletin board above my desk. Still, the old outline sits. One day Evan came by and circled the word “sex” to make me laugh, and it remains circled - a reminder that grownups never fully grow up. And why should we?
We work in a creaky, but otherwise quiet, old Baptist church with just a few other people. I have left these piles and etchings scattered, when I know that my patron saint of writing, Annie Dillard, would tell me to erase my tracks. “The path is not the work,” she says, “I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.” She is right, of course. When writers read and re-read their original words they harden like cement, and it becomes more difficult to edit and cut and rework. Still, that old whiteboard sits on the floor of my office.
Maybe these first notes are breadcrumbs that no bird or beetle wanted. Maybe I left them there as a reminder of how sure you can be about something, and how much everything can change. Or maybe it’s there to keep me humble. To remind me of where this all started. And how, soon, small groups will be reading my work together, holding it in their hands as though it is worth their time and attention, interrogating it and forming conclusions.
Dillard would remind me: “The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.” Writers go back and forth on their work, from impostor syndrome to unfounded confidence. One moment we proclaim our book “Trash!” and the next moment we wonder: “Maybe this book will change the world...” But it is not up to us. We do the work. We write, and read, edit, cut, and rewrite. We sleep, drink too much coffee, fight our doubts, and press in. But once the work is finished, it is out of our hands.
Readers get our book in the mail and tear away the packaging, or they buy it from a local book store and carry it home in a canvas bag. They have fresh eyes, having not been cooped up in an office, shoulders slumped forward, back aching, sitting in the rubble of our efforts for months. They take our book home and crack its fresh spine. They smell the pages - the new ink - and dig in. It is then that our work ends, and theirs begins.
Listen to this sketch