An English Major’s Woe

21 Jun

It is exhausting, writing. I remember hearing my English teachers say such things and I didn’t exactly believe them. I mean, I knew it was a bit of work, getting a piece of writing exactly the way I wanted it. But I knew, too, that the basic writing of ideas came fairly easily to me. So easily that I chose to major in English…a degree which my husband, I might add, does not hesitate to scoff (albeit kindly) at. He’s an engineer…and I can’t deny the fact that he’s the one making the money in this household. Thank God for the scientifically-minded…but, I also have to ask, do we not need the writers to keep us amused?  And provoke deep thoughts?  I hope?!

Yes, writing is stressful. But it’s also something I love. I can’t NOT do it. I write random sentences all the time on random bits of paper…many of which have been scribbled on by my children…or blown on by their noses.   Most of them never see the light of day.  But writing blithely off the top of one’s head is different from editing. I’ve been living in the editing world for so long now that finally, last night, I just up and said, “I’m DONE.” I thought I was done two weeks ago. But then I began – foolishly – to read my manuscript through yet again, and discovered that there are still things to be fixed. Yes, a few blatant errors (mostly things that the “find and replace” function didn’t catch, as well as a time-frame issue that arose), but mostly the problems I found were phrases that just weren’t “perfect” or words that didn’t sound quite right.

Perfectionism is a curse and a fallacy when it comes to writing. I truly believe it’s impossible for a writer to ever be totally satisfied with their entire book. One or two phrases here and there may feel almost perfect…but then I worry that I’m somehow blind to their faults, that they’re perhaps overly sentimental or too wordy or that they contain some other horrifying writer’s sin like a run-on sentence or a split infinitive. (What is a split infinitive? I don’t know.  That’s why I switched from Journalism as a major…it was too precise…and competitive.  That’s also why I didn’t make a great English teacher.  It’s hard to teach it when you can’t explain it.  The trick is, I know things are wrong when I see them…at least usually!) And so I fear even those “perfect” phrases. They’re the ones editors tend to CHOP. In college I wrote a poem titled “Killing my Babies” about that exact thing…cutting out lines that I love but that simply need to go for whatever reason. No, I won’t copy that poem for you here…wouldn’t want to lose any readers due to my terrible collegiate scribbles! (And, by the way, I don’t think that I’d use that title again, having children of my own now. Feels a little distasteful…and overly dramatic. Yet another writer’s sin.)

Yes, writing this book has been intense. I can’t even remember exactly when I started it, but I think that it was 3 ½ years ago. Writing goes slowly when you only have an average of 2 ½ hours twice a week to dedicate to it. (Pre-school and/or napping pre-schooler hours.) The end date is fluid, too, as I am finding out. The reality is, it will never be done…until I’m forced to just simply stop perfecting it due to a publisher’s deadline…which, of course, is what I want! And so, I’m beginning that dreaded hunt to find a publisher. Last week I sent my entire book to two people I’ve known for years, but with whom I only recently reconnected via Facebook. (I love facebook, I must admit.) Mr. Brown was my 8th grade English teacher and Mrs. Brown my 4th grade teacher. (And yes, I have a terrible time calling them by their first names now…old habits die hard. Can you relate?) Together they are going to edit/make suggestions/and aid me in this process.  I asked them if they were willing for me to include this paragraph…but I didn’t tell them I was going to say this: Mrs. Brown was my favorite teacher EVER…and I went to four years of college and three years of grad school…so that makes for a lot of teachers over the years!  How fun is it for me to be working with her now, all these years later, as an adult?  I really am thrilled to have them both on my side!  They’ve written two books themselves, so they know what they’re talking about.  Yes, everything is coming together!!

And so I’m entering the phase of book-writing that I’ve feared and dreaded for years. The phase that has kept me from ever seriously attempting a book before. I’m putting on my thick skin. I’m asking my husband to dedicate some of his hard-earned engineer money to this, and I’m diving into the deep end. And I can’t even swim. But, hopefully, the fact that I’ve edited my brains out will be a life-raft.

Oh, and not to be obnoxious, but if you subscribe to this blog, perhaps my future publisher will be impressed by how many people want to read what I write! THANKS!


6 Responses to “An English Major’s Woe”

  1. Andrea June 21, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    You’ve sent the ms to two people whom you have known for years? How about one more you have known for years, an experienced editor who has worked with novelists, essayists, poets, self-help writers, and student writers of all kinds? Plus I do only the kind of editing you request: anything from typos to how do I rework this first chapter to general morale-building.

  2. Katie June 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    I still call you Mrs. O’Donnell. 🙂

  3. Kimberly Robertson June 23, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Needless to say (a phrase which is always followed by the ‘needless’ saying) reading you are completing your work and getting it to the world solidly places you on my HEROINE list. Go for it. Thik skin it. Cry on Colin’s shoulder when the rejection letters come and be sure to share with all us less heroic folks WHEN it gets published!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell June 24, 2011 at 7:06 am #

      I don’t know about being a hero, that’s for sure! But I appreciate your comment! I’m feeling good about this process…at least now, before the rejections begin!!!

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