Ending obsession

Here we go again. It’s phase three of the A Housefly in Autumn remodel. As I predicted, between rewriting the middle and obsessing over the beginning, I’ve come to that time when I feel compelled to tweak the ending.

The good news is that it’s only the last couple of paragraphs I want to redo. The bad news is that those last two paragraphs contain a mother lode of tone. That’s not bad news in itself; it’s only bad news when you want to change them. It’s like changing whole pages at the beginning or whole chapters in the middle.

For the beginning, the concern is drawing readers in. At the middle, the worry is keeping them. The finale needs to hit just the right note. I think my previous note was a little flat and I’m trying to sharpen it up a bit.

When they are the last two paragraphs, two paragraphs can seem like a mountainous rewrite. It certainly has taken me more time than any two other paragraphs ever have. I’m still not completely satisfied, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.

On the bright side, I don’t have to count this late alteration as a self-induced delay to publication. This time I got smart and started obsessing about something while I was still waiting for my expert proofers to finish reviewing their copies. By the time they are done, this behemoth, two-paragraph rewrite should be complete.

At that point, I can feel good that I’ve given beginning, middle, and end their fair shares of obsessing and overthinking. The book will be as good as I can make it, lacking another 20 years’ worth of wisdom, for which I am not willing to wait.

What I'd look like after 20 more years of wisdom. Looks like I'd have a great story to tell doesn't it? Should we just wait?

What I’d look like after 20 more years of wisdom. Looks like I’d have a great story to tell, doesn’t it? Should we just wait?

It may seem like I’ve been talking about this book for 20 years already, but that’s just not true. I’ve been working on this book for 20 years (probably a mere 18, but who’s counting?). I’ve only been talking about it publicly for, well, far shorter than that.

Even so, I realize it may seem like I’ve been posting about this book for a long time without actually producing something like a book. No one feels this incongruity more keenly than I do. But no one sees the light at the end of the tunnel more clearly than I do. I am two short paragraphs away from concluding that it is what it is. Then all who are so inclined may judge for themselves whether I should have waited for 20 years more wisdom.

At that point, I can turn all my worries toward marketing. Marketing has been known to make me whine like a first grader with liverwurst on pumpernickel in his lunch box. Now that’s something to look forward to. Stay tuned.

The proof is in the proofing

I got my first proof copy of A Housefly in Autumn.

It’s been a few years since I’ve experienced that moment of pulling the proof copy of a new book out of the box and holding it in my hands for the first time. That’s my book. That’s the thing I’ve been toiling over for years, trying to get right. This day has been a long time in coming.

I breathed a sigh of relief that the cover was not printed upside down and my name was spelled correctly. That’s two potential embarrassments I can check off the list. Then I just held it in my hands for moment, feeling the smooth, clean cut weight of it in my fingers.

I flipped through the pages one quick time, but I didn’t read anything. That would come soon enough. I just wanted to believe it was perfect for a little while.

Because everything in between the covers scares me.

Does a comma belong there?

It’s a struggle not to be overcome by the excitement of reading through the book for the 678th time.

It scares me because there’s a lot of work yet to be done in there. There’s some of the most painstaking reading I will ever do waiting in there. It gives me a little pain in the base of my neck just thinking about it.

It scares me because it’s my first look at a hard copy of the interior layout. Maybe the gutters are too small. Maybe the paragraph indentations are too big. Maybe those headers that confounded me for days reverted back to all the pages I thought I’d exempted from them.

It scares me because there are mistakes in there. The manuscript has been proofed and proofed and proofed, but there are still mistakes hiding in places no one has yet discovered. Now, there are even more places for errors to hide; there’s the front matter and the back cover. Those haven’t been proofed nearly as well as the actual manuscript.

I know I’ll find most of the errors, and maybe the few that get past me will be innocuous – the kinds of things that readers wouldn’t even notice. But what if there’s a big, embarrassing one, hiding right out in the open where I’ll never find it?

I don’t even have a big publishing corporation I can blame mistakes on. There will be no, “Oh, the idiots at Random House missed that.” No, it’s the idiot at my house who missed that.

All this fear is a good thing. It will force me to focus and be thorough. It will encourage me to seek help.

The night I received my first proof copy, I lay in bed and thought about how much people might like this book. Then the fear kicked in and I thought about how much they might hate it. Then I thought about how much they might be utterly indifferent to it, which was the worst thought of all because even hatred requires at least some level of emotion.

I know this fear. I met it in the first proof copies of my other books. I also know that it will abate with the second proof copy and the third, etc., until it is overcome by the sense of accomplishment in moving toward my goals.

It’s just another step along the way.