Book Birth

I let the lawn get pretty long this spring. Cutting the grass is just another chore that eats into my writing time, but that’s not why I left the mower parked in the garage. It was the crocuses. After the long, hard winter that had even the hardiest of my Maine neighbors grumbling, I just couldn’t bear to cut down the fragile white and purple buds in my front yard before they had a chance to bloom. It’s amazing what can blossom–even in the harshest of climates.

There are limits though. A publisher’s short, sharp rejection letter reminded me of that lesson last week. After two and a half years and countless hours of revision, I finally released my first novel to a small circle of beta readers a couple of months ago. Though there were plenty of family and friends in that group (okay, they were all family and friends) they volunteered enough unsolicited comments about my ability to keep them turning pages to let me know that my story’s engine was running pretty well. So when a friend offered me an email introduction to a publisher he knew, I forwarded the first 20 pages and held my breath.

I didn’t have to wait long to let it out. I got a quick email back with the first two pages marked up and a short comment announcing that I wasn’t ready for prime time. What really stung, however, was his suggestion that I check out some of the books on writing he offered on his website. I’ve read more than two dozen books on the craft, and while I’m sure my education as a writer is far from over, I’d learned enough about the mechanics of storytelling to prompt me to rip apart the completed first draft of my novel and rewrite it again. (And again, and again, and again…)

It took the wisdom of a bud in my writers’ group to orient me to what was going on. The publisher had no idea of my storytelling skills because the lens he was looking at my work through hadn’t allowed him to look far enough to discern them. The only way someone in his position can wade through the deluge of his daily slushpile is to search for perfectly polished manuscripts. And though I’d worked on those pages till I couldn’t see them anymore, I hadn’t hired an editor to proof them with the unbiased eye I needed to remove every possible flaw.

A talented young writer reached out to me around the same time last week. When she mentioned her work in progress, I told her I’d be happy to take a look. She thanked me for the offer but told me that for now, she needed to “hold the book really close to (her) chest.” This young author reminded me what I’d forgotten in my haste to shuttle my manuscript from the safe harbor of my family and friends and out into the cold, cruel world of publication. It was the same lesson those first harbingers of spring reminded me of a few weeks earlier:

The surest way to kill something beautiful is to cut it down before it’s had a chance to flower.

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