The day before I ascended my manuscript into my publisher’s hands, I performed a ritual I use when writing something big for the magazine, like Wacoan of the Year. I drove to Starbucks to read it one last time.
The nearest Starbucks is 30 miles away. It was pouring rain in May, which was ridiculous. We didn’t know it would keep raining, leading to Memorial Day floods across Central Texas.
On the drive I called my dad to say I was just about finished rewriting, and, oh yeah, the book is now really about Mom and has a bunch of the cancer poems I wrote.
He thought that was great.
But I was worried. TS Poetry Press is not a religious publisher. No one would accidentally come to Jesus reading my book. What would Mom think of that?
That’s when my dad gave me a tremendous gift. He said, “She’s not here.”
With that short sentence I had the all the freedom I needed to write the book that needed to be written.
I made it safely to my destination, bought a venti-size tea, read the manuscript aloud in my head, made a few changes, and ascended it the following morning.
That was not the end of the writing process, although my publisher did feel that, lo and behold, yes, this version was much better. I was supposed to have sent an outline first, but I don’t usually have time for those at the magazine. Oops.
During the summer I was asked to change the book’s ending (which I hadn’t done in the rewrite) and add a couple of chapters, which meant more sheets of notebook paper and more lists. I had found Kathleen Jamie’s poem “The Dipper” the day I went to Starbucks to do the final read. I’m so glad I had time to get permission to include it in the final version.
In March 2016 I worked on front matter and end notes and listing all those poetry permissions from publishers. The whole process stretched from January 1, 2014-April 1, 2016, when the book was published.
Here’s something interesting: I could not write poems while I was writing about poetry. The few I tried to write weren’t very good. Right before the book came out, I started writing poetry again, even poetry about that other elephant. Maybe in a few more years, it can come out, stomp around and make a bunch of noise.
For all of you who are in the process of writing, I encourage you to be open to what your book needs. What I’ve described in this series may not work for you at all, but maybe you’ll look at what I’ve written and say, “Not this, but that.” Books are like children. As they grow up, they make their desires known. It behooves us to listen and adjust.