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.