What’s This Story About?

It’s not every day you complete a life goal, and for a week after I wrote the last chapter of my memoir, I woke each morning with the euphoric thought that I had written a book. I read it again, adding commas and deleting words. I made sure sentences made sense and cut clichés. I polished each page of the manuscript until I was sure it sparkled.

And then, just to be sure my work was good, I sent my memoir to a friend of a friend, who had written a memoir and found a publisher.

“Could you read this for me?” I wrote to her. “And tell me if it’s ready to send to a publisher?”

And then I waited, a little anxious, but mostly confident of how she’d respond—with a few suggestions on how to improve and a recommendation to submit the manuscript to a publisher.

But her suggestions were not few. And the recommendation wasn’t anywhere in her email.

Instead, she asked questions like this:

  • What is this story about?
  • What are your themes? Your goals?
  • In each scene, what did you see and feel and hear?

And she made some statements I didn’t want to read, statements like this:

  • Your manuscript is still in rough draft form.
  • There’s a lot to play with here. But you don’t really play with it.
  • Some of this text reads like a research paper or work of journalism.
  • Any writing you keep needs to be subordinated to the theme.
  • The opening chapters lagged a little for me, and they must be grabbers.
  • Make us care, and then give us a thread to hang on to.

I closed the email and took a long walk.

(More later)

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