Last week, the galley proof for my next book landed in my inbox. A galley proof is an edited version of the manuscript. My manuscript was originally due to Rebekah, my acquisitions editor, a few months ago. I submitted the manuscript to Rebekah and she read it, made some helpful changes and suggestions, and sent the manuscript back to me to review. I reviewed her suggestions, made some changes, and sent the manuscript back. Rebekah then sent the manuscript to Amy, who read the manuscript again.
What I received back from Amy is the galley proof. Amy gave the manuscript a read with fresh eyes and made additional suggestions. These suggestions and edits are more in-depth than what I worked on with Rebekah. Amy checked my references and citations. She wants to be sure my words are communicating the meaning I truly hope to convey. She asks questions like, “What do you mean, exactly?” and she says things like, “This doesn’t make any sense.”
Sometimes, when I open the galley proof on my laptop, I want to close one eye and squint through the open one. The galley proof is no joke, and Amy isn’t letting me off easily. While it’s a tough process, the goal is to make sure the book makes sense, engages the reader, and offers something valuable to the world. Rebekah’s edits, and now Amy’s, are each one step toward that goal. If I were to tell you it’s not painful, I’d be lying, straight to your face.
Present to the Moment
When I wrote my first book, Every Little Thing, I felt as if I had to dig the book out of me. Writing this new book, One: Unity in a Divided World, left me with a literal, physical limp (a story I share in the book). Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine who is working on her own manuscript and I told her writing a book is deeply spiritual work. A person doesn’t need to hold a particular faith perspective for this to be true. The work of book-writing is a lesson in remaining present to the moment and the practice of presence is soul work, no matter how you slice it.
What you write comes from experience, knowledge, observation, understanding, revelation, perspective, and (when we’re lucky) passion. When you write on the page, or the screen, you capture a snapshot of those layers of yourself at a particular moment in time. Once they’re published, the words you write stay just as they are. The words may be part of a conversation but, unlike the conversation itself, the words you write in a book do not change. The offering you submit to the world is what it is, unless and until a new edition is printed at some point in the future, or the book goes out of print (in which case, the words still don’t change, they simply go away). Blogging changed a lot of that, of course. A blogger can go back and edit her writing from now until forever. But a book is different. A book is what it is. There is so much pressure on a writer (whether real or imagined) to get it right.
Editors help. But, getting it right is a shot in the dark, isn’t it? We writers sit with those words and we fuss and fidget with the words and this is why our publishers give us deadlines and hold us to them. We would fuss and fidget toward rightness until the end of time, if they’d let us.
The Weight of Rightness
What a sacred challenge, to sit in the moment, with the words on the page, and be present to them. To let them live and to trust the entire universe with your intent. What a gift to untangle your soul from the weight of being right, forever and ever amen, and instead, to figure out how to be a writer, who has no idea what perfection looks like and who doesn’t really know the weight of rightness. We trust our words to the moments—the moment of writing, and the moment when some reader out there will hold them in his hands and receive them or question them or reject them altogether. We fuss and fidget and we meet our deadlines and we close one eye and squint the other.
I have just a few days to get my galley proof back to Amy. I don’t have many moments to fuss and fidget and squint at it. This is my one opportunity to get it somewhere close to right and, even though I’ve said that, I know it’s not possible. What I can do is be present—to God, the universe, the readers, the reviewers, the haters, the process—and let it go. I can do that with dread and angst, or I can do it with awe and expectancy. If I get my soul tangled up in the whole thing, dread and angst is what I’ll receive in return. But when I can be still in the moment, there I find my very best hope of remembering my identity is not in the words I write.
In the end, we have to breathe, and let it go. Therein lies the most profound spiritual practice of each life—whether we are religious or spiritual or something else. Letting go of breath and dreams and intent and control and being right and all the rest might be just the thing we’ve all been looking for. And so, there you sit, the cursor blinking, the page empty—each one a holy invitation to set your soul free.
Some questions for you: Where do you work hard to be right? What role does the desire for perfection play in your life? What scares you most about letting go? What spiritual practice have learned through your work?
Lynn D. Morrissey
There is a lot of truth in this Deidra. It’s a deep and thoughtful post, and I thank you for it. Having written three books, I’ve gone through this angst and work and letting go three times (and of course, there are the published articles and poetry, all edited). It is a spiritual practice… a willingness to bare your soul on the public page, a willingness to be corrected and told you are wrong or that there is a better way to say what you are saying, a willingness to be humble, a willingness (if an editor will not accept your challenge sometimes even to let what was right be made wrong, and to live with the introduced mistake that was not yours, though you know no one will know that and you will get the credit for the error), a willingness to be applauded and pray it won’t go to your head, and a willingness to be condemned or ignored. And mostly, I have found, as a Christian author, a willingness to obey God and just write what He says, no matter the cost, no matter the loss, no matter the recognition or lack thereof. And a willingness to know that your words are one tiny tributary flowing into the ocean that is God, reflecting Him in some small way. It’s all spiritual. And there is satisfaction and humbling in that. I wish you so well as you contribute yet another tributary, flowing into the ONE, the only One. The topic of your next book is so important. Thank you for doing all this, for going through all of this to bring it into being! Can’t wait to read it.
PS I would only add my personal observation that I don’t trust the Universe. Just not sure what that means. I do trust the God who created it. 🙂
“It’s all spiritual.” Yes. Yes, it is. Your insights, as always, are a gift, Lynn. Thank you.
My work has mainly been mothering, and I have learned bushels — and have bushels still to learn — about the need to strive for whatever is best for these rowdy boys, but then (gasp) to let go, at some point (And is the point ever the same for any two kids? No.), and stand there while they walk things out on their own.
Just going back and reading that last sentence makes my stomach hurt.
Me too. My children are grown people, and I still have to practice letting them go.
Hey Deidra. What deep questions.
The weight of rightness. If you place a ‘b’ in front of that it seems as if it’s the ‘weight of brightness.’ Letting our light shine, has the intent of blessing someone’s soul enough to enlighten them and help them find light. Whether that light be within, or in their communities, their relationships, their soul…I consider it to be like the scripture where Paul says: 1 Corinthians 3:6
“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”
I believe all books are for growth and enlightenment. But like Paul, all we really do is plant seeds. It’s up to the person and their hearts and Gods wisdom & divine increase….as to whether they actually grow.
As I speak, I believe perfection is being broken over my life. I’m struggling with a job, and certain people that seem to be perfectionist, and it’s a decision about whether to let it go, and still have a cushion in the mean time that helps me to live and thrive in my career. Now, I haven’t let go, because God hasn’t yet led me to. (So I need to stop struggling, right?) I know. I also believe there’s a higher purpose in it for me, and for someone I work with as a therapist. So what spiritual practice have I learned through my work? Perhaps that what’s “right” in God’s eyes is primary, and a lesson learned. Overtime. I’m learning how to recognize grace but how to notice God’s imprint of it in just about every aspect of my work life. It’s hard noticing…but it is also for his Glory. My prayer every day is Lord help my soul to be still and recognize the grace in Your work first, not mine.
How cool! “Brightness” indeed.
Thanks for sharing that passage from Paul’s letter. God makes things grow. We do what we can, and we give our best to the work. But God makes it grow and isn’t the whole point of releasing our projects? Thanks for the reminder, Jennifer.
And yes..That is the point for releasing the work. Assignment completed, in Jesus name.???? Just an update: I’ve been released from the work.. & now I have more time to write. Smile.
And..I keep coming back here for inspiration. Love this post.???? Thanks again.
What fascinating insight into the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual depths of the writer’s world, Deidra.
Your labor of love reminds me why I won’t be quitting my day job! And prompts me to pray for those who have been deeply called into the world of publishing …
Haha! Thanks for the laugh, Linda! And for the prayers.
“my identity is not in the words I write.” That’ll preach! Thanks for sharing your process with us and many blessings on the book!
How many battles have we fought to hold our “right” positions? I say we, but of course, I mean me. I gave up on being right for doing good which I admit might not add up to much in the eyes of some but it matters to the One. I love your words, Deidra, the ones you are pouring over in that galley are the ones I’ve been waiting on awhile. Saying a prayer as you pour over them this last time.
I mean me, too.
Thank you so much for your prayers and kind encouragement.
Jody Ohlsen Collins
Where do you work hard to be right?
I’m an English major, former writer’s workshop teacher and an aspiring editor–copy and proofreader.
I loathe typos–and make such quick judgments on other folks who misspell words. Dumb, I know.
Why do I have such a high, unreasonable standard? Perhaps I haven’t worked that grace completely into my own life….and the life of others.
When I write inspired, it shows. If I write mechanically it shows. But whatever I write, I want it to show the world Jesus–through grace and love and hope.
Thank you for this honest, compelling post.
I so look forward to your new book.
Jody, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, so candidly.
H calls me a spelling snob. I’m working on it. Really, I am.
There’s so much rightness about this post, Deidra. “We trust our words to the moments—” I was thinking just yesterday how much the moment I’m in influences (if not dictates) what I write. The idea of something so fluid as my thoughts being frozen in time on a page until thawed by a reader’s gaze—thats’s both scary and wonderfully mysterious. Trust is the right word.
Beautiful imagery in your words here, Kim. Keep writing, sister.
As a blogger I have never considered the fact that I can change what I have written. But you are right. Print is different. It’s final and forever. Bless you for being brave enough to follow through with the process you are called to do.
There are bloggers who don’t fuss with what they’ve written, once it’s out there. So many bloggers write at such a high level, and they work hard at getting it right before they hit “publish.” I have such deep respect for these fabulous bloggers and, at the same time, I’m grateful for the opportunity to edit out typos and other errors, after the fact. Thanks so very much for your blessing, Paula.
Sounds like a “wrestling with God” Jacob limp, Deidra. So excited for One’s release date. Love your new AU photo!
Thanks for the love!