>"The Hardest Part is Over"… Post Partum Blues

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I was in a bit of a funk earlier this week… because I heard back from my freelance editor with her comments about The Sweet Carolines. First of all let me say that I think she is brilliant and I agree with 90% of what she says. (The other 10% is probably also right, but I’m stubborn.)

The good news? She said that “it’s a story worth telling, and worth telling well.” She said that Caroline is “a character worth giving a voice to.” But she also said that the novel needs major surgery. Ouch. A lot of her suggestions and observations are repeats of what my first freelance editor said, but I just wasn’t ready to hear them. Because this is my baby.

Following several pages of comments and critiques, she ended with these words: “Writing the first draft is the hardest part, and you’ve done a great job of getting a whole lot of material out onto the page…. The hardest part is over.”

Okay, first of all, it wasn’t my first draft, although I’m sure it read like one to her. It was about my third draft, having been through eight “early readers” and one other freelance editor and several revisions. But that’s okay… I’m a novice and I have a lot to learn. I get that.

But then, when I read her words, “The hardest part is over,” I thought, “really?”

Instantly I thought about a young mother I know who gave birth to a precious little baby who has needed numerous surgeries in his young life so far. I visited her recently, at home with her second baby now. She was in a bit of pain from a C-section, but her tears as we talked weren’t about the pain of childbirth… they were about the pain her child has suffered since childbirth.

Please don’t think I’m in any way saying that birthing a novel is as significant as birthing a child, or that revising a book is on the same plane as a mother watching her child undergo major surgery. But I couldn’t help but think what this young mother would say if she were asked this question: “Which was harder—giving birth, or the subsequent surgeries your baby has needed?”

They say you forget the pain of childbirth. I wouldn’t know, as all three of my children are adopted. But I will say that writing this novel has not been painful… or even hard. It’s been incredibly joyful and redemptive. Just getting the story down. And even the revisions thus far. But now as I face the major surgery that I need (and want) to perform on her, I consider my freelance editor’s words, “the hardest part is over.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to discover that this is true?

I’ll find out soon, as I begin the surgery. Maybe next week.

But this week I’m taking some “personal time” … time away from the baby to do other things. Like reading In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction edited by Lee Gutkind, (pix above, right) who will be leading the Creative Nonfiction Workshop I’ll be attending in Oxford on the 29th. What an amazing book! The first essay in this collection of what Gutkind calls the best twenty-five essays published by Creative Nonfiction over the past ten years (out of 10,000 manuscripts submitted and 300 published!) is “Three Spheres” by Lauren Slater (below, right). Slater is a psychologist and author of several books of nonfiction. These 21 pages held me captive and left me wanting more.

So I flipped through the table of contents and decided on Francine Prose’s (below) essay, “Going Native,” which also did not disappoint. But it’s her words at the end of the essay that I sat up and noticed. Words about when she writes and how she shuffles between fiction and nonfiction: “On an ideal day I would work on fiction in the morning, when I’m really fresh, and then on reviews or journalism in the afternoon….” Sounds like a plan.

Thankfully, there are 23 more essays waiting for me in In Fact… and I’m looking forward to reading more of them this week.

Taking “personal time” also means allowing myself some breathing room… room to enjoy the beautiful weather, and the opportunity to sit outside on the deck of my favorite bar/restaurant with a friend yesterday afternoon and share poetry and family stories and the feel of autumn trying to sneak into town on the slight breeze that’s been chasing the temp and the humidity down a bit lately. Deep breath. Two days until Fall. Can you feel it? It’s nice to be 10 minutes from the Mississippi River (at Harbor Town)… I think I’ll walk along the river at sunset tonight….

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