Letting Go and Lemons
Book Edits are Hard to Do
The cover of my next novel TRASHLANDS has been revealed! Releasing in October, you can pre-order now on any book retailer website or here on HarperCollins—and read the first chapter for free here. It’s a very short chapter (but also… a lot of things happen).
Letting Go and Lemons
Here’s where I am now: TRASHLANDS is being copyedited. I made the last changes I can make, and it’s pretty much out of my hands, which is terrifying. But this is how you live as a writer. Publishing a book or big work is like breaking up with someone you’re in love with. You have to give the project your all—and then you have to just walk away.
I was unprepared for how much of book publishing is letting go: content edits, line edits, copyedits, page proofs…You can’t just let go once and be done with it. You have to sign off multiple times. You have not only second but third and fourth thoughts. Four grieving periods, maybe more.
And then decisions become final. You have to be very very certain, and then—then! suddenly!—you just have to try to forget it ever happened.
Forget you stayed up all night. Forget this story came to you in dreams. Forget all the hours—years—you considered these characters as you walked, showered, cleaned up the dishes, took care of children, did other work. How you mumbled language. How you sacrificed to write. How you were half in your real life, half in a life you invented in your head and lived with alone. How these made-up people invaded your thoughts. How you miss them. How you worry about them, but also, like children, are powerless to stop them.
On my book tour for ROAD OUT OF WINTER, a student asked me: Do you ever want to go back and change things in the published book? And the answer has to be no. You have to let it go.
That book is a record of who you were at that time. Would you do things differently, make a different book, if you were to re-write it, now that you’re older? Probably. Would it be better? Maybe, if we believe we’re always getting better, always growing (I hope so!).
But this is the best book I was able to do as a person of my age and intelligence and emotion with the time and circumstances I was given: a single mom living below the poverty line, with emotionally supportive family, a beautiful rural community, an old and very rickety house with no office, no job security or full-time work, not enough money, not enough working hours, trauma in my body, a disabled body. Not all of that is counter to writing. A lot of it made me and my work stronger.
I know in my heart that TRASHLANDS is the best thing I’ve ever written in my career. And if I never write anything that strong again…well, at least I did it once! (I hope I write something better next time, though.) Whatever happens, it will be different. It needs to be different, to keep going as an artist.
A book is a record of who you are. But who you are changes.
It’s easier to let go if you have a new place to go to. The best advice I ever learned about publishing a book was to be writing a new book when it came out, to be deep in a different, fresh project that excites you. The life of an artist is a cycle that constantly restarts itself.
I always seem to have something starting to come to life on my computer, something else in my head, maybe a third thing waiting even further back in my thoughts.
New ideas will wait. If the idea, the dream, is worth you, worth creating, it will wait for you until you’re ready.
Waiting in the fridge for us right now is a glass jar full of preserved lemons. When life gives you lemons, preserve them! Really delicious on just about every chicken dish, in cocktails or tea, or just eaten by themselves, there are a lot of preserved lemon recipes out there. But my partner used a recipe similar to this one when he made us a big, salted batch.
Lemons always cheer me up. The summery color, the bright taste. I won’t go into the medicinal properties since they’re well known (help with colds, sore throats, etc). But preserved, lemons can stay in the fridge up to about 6 months.
Your ideas can stay with you even longer, so stick with them, however they and you grow and change.