So, I’m doing this again. You know that thing I said I wouldn’t do. That thing that if I had to do again, I would scratch my own eyes out and gladly bleed out on the table, just so I wouldn’t be able to do that thing again. For the last time before someone else sees it, I am going through my manuscript and giving it one final whooping (I mean revision).
It has been about five months since I last touched it, desperate to find the right person to help me move this manuscript into what it needs to become, and that time seems to have served me well – or maybe it was just the writing conference I attended last month that afforded me to wear a new pair of blinders. So, I am able to snip, cut, and even eliminate entire parts that just didn’t matter to the story no matter how much I liked them. I expanded, took away some explanations so that readers can draw their own conclusions and for the first time was able to look at my manuscript from a distance. I still couldn’t see it as if it were someone else’s and could be 100% objective and ‘oh it needs this, get rid of that’ but I also didn’t see it as this appendage, painfully attached to my body. It was still mine, but it wasn’t just mine anymore, and I think that is how I inevitably need to feel about it.
The monster of a manuscript was originally 341,000 words. For people unfamiliar with publishing norms, it was basically three books long. It was my ‘everything draft’ so I figured it should be long, but I realized soon after that what I had written wasn’t one book – it seemed to be two. I have always wanted to write a memoir about one time/part of my life and some of that came out in this first draft. And while it could add layers to my backstory for this book, it wasn’t necessary to this story. It was hard to do, but I cut it all away. When I was finished I was left with 267,000 words. Better, but still a little more than two whole books remained in that manuscript.
I tried to figure it out. This book was too long, but I didn’t know what else to cut and I hated focusing on just cutting. What about expanding? There were already things I was worried weren’t rich enough – that I needed to dig deeper, not for myself, but for the reader. But it was so LONG. And then I had a thought I dismissed because it sounded like something my husband would suggest; something far too simple and completely implausible. It still wasn’t one book – it was two.
I didn’t like this idea and auto-rejected it without giving it a reason… for about a week. But the idea kept coming back, and before I could help myself I found myself considering it, which meant I needed to give it a reason – a reason why it was completely out of the question and would not work. I did. I gave several reasons and the loudest included: This is a story about my rebirth after dying at the hands of an incurable illness. That rebirth was physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Breaking up the book would mean having it be Book 1: Physical, Book 2: Everything else. I didn’t like that.
It was one story: an involved, complicated, far too long and yet not long enough singular story. This led me into other reasons such as the unsophisticated yet widely popular: I don’t want to. Because I really, really don’t want to. And then my inner planner authorpreneur chimed in with doubts about marketing and sales. I mean what if the first book is harder to sell because it isn’t all introspective? The truth was when I was fighting to live, I didn’t ponder the meaning of life or God or reflect on my life or think how unfair it was or make promises to myself about what I would go on to accomplish as if I wasn’t sick. I raise an eyebrow at anyone who was as ill as I was, and as hopeless a case medically speaking, who claim to do all of that while they are in the thick of it. That comes after.
Yes, I did all of those things, but not until I was finally seeing progress. Not until I saw life as a possibility and since my incurable monster disappeared overnight because of a miracle, some gift from the universe, both unexpected and unexplainable, this was not a process. I was sick and fighting like hell and there is so much story there, what happened, how I dealt, what I thought – but I always was surviving moment to moment. And that is what the first book would be. On the other hand what if the first book did really well and the second book shouldn’t go out until the first book started to lose steam, but at the same time it needed to come out soon because it was the concluding half of the same story. What if my second book, which includes an honest hard (and sometimes dark) look at my own actions and way of life before turning things around turned people off? I wasn’t worried about what they would think of me, because it would be honest and that is all I can hope to be as a writer. I worried how it would affect sales of the first book, if sales were good. Would it make sales suddenly move in the wrong direction?
My manuscript when I started out comprised of three parts. The first part is death and illness #1 (and begins with my 25th birthday), Part 2 is illness #2 and ends with my miracle and turning 26. Part 3 spanned over two years and was about coming to terms with everything, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and learning to not only live again, but live better. When I first thought of my book I figured Part 3 would be nearly half of it, because if I am looking at each fresh start on its own there are four: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual (they feel like three, but not sure which two are combined into one… anyway). But after my first draft, the third part was less than 10% of my entire manuscript. And it has remained that way during each revision. The reason for that is simple: it feels more like a sketch than an actual part. As if it is an outline or shadow of what it should be, but the length issue never allowed me to get into the headspace I needed to be in, to expand on anything. At the same time I couldn’t cut anything either because it was already so sparse. It was a problem, and one I had no idea what to do with… until this. Make it its own book. I hated that idea and it still makes me doubtful and sometimes queasy.
I didn’t vocalize it until I was out to dinner with my husband. I talked to him about my length and how it was still a problem, and how I didn’t want to go over Part 3, because since I was focusing on cuts, all I would be doing is hurting the manuscript as a whole. Everything I read in those chapters were screaming for more… and then there is everything I left out to begin with. I felt trapped. My husband proposed breaking it up, and to his surprise I confessed I had been thinking about that, but told him why I didn’t want to do it. But as I talked about it out loud, and then played devil’s advocate with myself about why it might work, it was as if everything clicked. Now I couldn’t shake the idea that breaking it up into two stories was the only thing I could do for my book. And I still didn’t want to do it!
What did this devil’s advocate have to say? For starters, I looked back at writing everything the first time and every revision I had done since. There are two endings to Part 2, except not really. Three pages before the end of the last chapter is what I wanted the end of that part to be, because it references the title and theme of the part and the line gave me chills every time I read it and it felt like the end. BUT because Part 3 existed and took place after I turned 26, I had to tie up loose ends. I ended that chapter with another ending. It also felt like ‘the end’. When I thought of separating the books, the first ending became the end of Part 2, just how I always felt it should work, and everything after became the epilogue and the actual ending of book 1.
Then there was the title that referenced my age: 25. It was in the title of my actual manuscript, because the heat of battle began on my 25th birthday when I died and I got my fresh start and began my other journeys when I turned 26 – a different year. Now suddenly the title made more sense – a title I have always known and felt, before I wrote a single word of the manuscript.
After I vocalized everything and just couldn’t shake the feeling, I emailed the person I was sending the manuscript to. Worrying about sales and things I can’t possibly know aside, it felt too easy. I didn’t know if this was some epiphany I was having, which was the natural evolution of this book, or if I was finding a cheap way to make my life easier. I needed guidance and I trust this person completely. She didn’t tell me what to do (I don’t think I ever thought she would) but what she had to say made me realize what I needed to do. (Isn’t that the best kind of advice?) She said (and I am paraphrasing here) that our subconscious does all of this heavy lifting, making associations and connections out of real life and we are completely unaware and when we’re ready to surrender it smacks us violently upside the head. (She used the word ‘wham’ and wow was she not kidding.) We’re suddenly aware of what was unconscious to us for so long…
I knew then that I had to break it up. It may not work. It may be the wrong thing to do, but it is something I have to try. And yes, it makes many things so much easier (and that in and of itself seems wrong somehow) but at the same time it makes other things more difficult or scary and unknown. The truth is I don’t want to do it, and if I created this option as an out, wouldn’t I want it? My head says ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and my… everything else says ‘This is what needs to be done. This is your book now.’
So, I did it. It’s done. And I have sent it off to the person I mentioned and trying not to think about if I just made a colossal mistake or finally did what I needed to do. We’ll see. But for now, I am just relieved that it’s done. I did the unthinkable and despite my worries and all the problems I am sure that exist… I am happy with where the book stands now. And in two weeks or so, I will find out just how bad this book is – and then I will move onto the next phase, which I am sure is just a painful. But that is the point, right? As writers, we write because we must. I finally surrendered and as anxious as I should feel – I feel surprisingly light… and right.