When you’ve read all four-hundred-thirty-seven pages for the ninety-ninth time and sit back with a sigh of satisfaction and say, “Damn, I’m good!” you’re probably ready to send your work away to an editor or an agent. There is never a better time to send it out… except when there isn’t.
I know because I’ve enjoyed such a moment more times than I care to say. That’s when I want to print it for the final time to make it all clean and shiny, pull some elastic bands around it and slide it, gently, tenderly, into a big padded envelope with a cleverly written cover letter, and send it off into the world.
Then, I remember how cruel that world is. “Oh, no,” I say, patting it and setting it aside. “You’re not ready yet, sweet baby.”
I click CTRL+Home to take the file back to page one, or take off the elastics, turn my stack of paper over, set it down and start reading again. Just in case. “Maybe it’s not as good as I think it is. Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was five minutes ago.” Sadly, I’m probably right.
That’s when, if I’m working on an MS Word file (which nowadays is pretty much the only way I work), I run a global search for words ending in “ly”—like gently, tenderly, cleverly. And make a good stab at eliminating them wherever possible and practical. Please remember that word. Practical.
“Only, easily, truly, and certainly,” are words most readers glide over without noticing so I only look at them and make a quick decision about whether to chop them or leave them if deleting or changing them would make the sentence awkward. Above, when I wrote about “gently, tenderly” sliding my manuscript into a bag, it would have been just as effective to say “I ease” it into a bag. My cover letter could have been described as just as well by writing, my cover letter because of course, I would have written a clever one. After all, I’m a writer.
If, before this moment I have neglected to do so, I also do a global search for the word “that” which is most often nothing more than padding and can be removed. This is especially true if I’ve written something like “the man that stood on the corner was waiting for a bus,” I’d have been accused of bad writing on two counts. One, because it’s an inactive sentence, and two, because people are who and animals are that. To correct the statement, I would write, “The man who stood…” It would have been preferable to write, “The man on the corner stood waiting for a bus,” or “The man stood on the corner waiting for a bus.” Simple solutions, both.
If I feel I might have overused any word—I do have my favorites—I go through and search them out. “Know” is one. “Slow,” is another as is “deep. It is those global searches for problem words I, and you, should have done long before the final read and the wonderful “Damn, I’m good!” moment. Once we’ve completed them, done everything possible to make our manuscript the best it can be; when astute people have proofread it for typos, grammar, spelling, punctuation and plot holes; when we’ve repaired all the bloopers brought to our attention, it is time to submit it. If we don’t, as writers have the courage to put our work out there, we’re in danger of shoving it into a box under the bed where it will languish. At that point, we have to let it go and send it out into the world to fly to the sky or sink into the Mariana Trench. (Or simply float along gently on the surface of the world where once in a while some reader will trip on it, pick it up, enjoy it, and let you know. There is satisfaction there too.) Not every book is destined to be a bestseller.
Still, that “Damn, I’m good!” uplift in spirits, the feeling of intense satisfaction must not be ignored. The best time to send a book away for the professional assessment of a publishing house or literary agency is when you’re on a real emotional high. That’s about the easiest time to let it go. It’s also the time to anchor your thoughts on the next book, the one poking holes in your brain, insisting it needs your attention, demanding you write it. Now.
Celebrate your great feelings about your work as I hope you celebrate this festive season the way you prefer. I also hope your career will grow as swiftly as my amaryllis blossoms which, three weeks ago, were mere sprouts poking out of the bulbs. Write well and daily throughout 2020! Be a flowering amaryllis.