Yes, sometimes during the course of writing our books, we hit walls.
For a variety of reasons, it can happen during the writing process, especially as life gets in the way. But, did you know it can also happen during the editing process? And that’s when it can be even more difficult to navigate. During the editing process, we are so close. We can see the finish line up ahead. But that finish line represents much more than being done. It signifies that we are closer to the moment when we will put our book, our baby, into the world. It points to the time when we will open ourselves to judgment, to individual and group reactions, to assessments, and maybe even criticism. In memoir, we also open ourselves to the possibility that others will not see or remember events the way we do. And they may not appreciate our need to tell our stories from our perspective.
High Stakes = High Anxiety = Inner Saboteurs
As the stakes get higher, so does our anxiety, which opens the door for our inner critics—our inner saboteurs—to show up. This can be the time when they do some of their best work to try to shut us down. Believe me, I know. For the past month, I’ve been right there with them as they’ve said some of the most horrible words to me. Their underlying message, no matter what words come out, is this: You have no business putting a book into the world. You belong in the background, supporting other authors. Stay in your lane! And, most of all, keep the story of what you’ve lived to yourself. No one needs or wants to know about it.
I’ve written about those critical voices before—especially how they showed up when I first sent my manuscript off to my editor. But during my recent rewrites, those internal messages of “not good enough” got louder and even more cruel than I’d ever experienced in the past. They took me to my knees—I had not been prepared for such a frontal attack.
How to Move Forward
It’s taken me weeks to be able to move forward. At first, I succumbed to the ridicule, closed up my manuscript, and stayed away. Then, other thoughts began to seep in: You can’t stop now. You’re so close. You need to do this for yourself as much as for others. You need to allow your voice and your story into the light of day. You have a message about how you were changed, which can open the door to change for others. Don’t stop now! Thank the Universe for those messages! Whether they came from me or from somewhere else, I heard them. And then I heard something that I offer to authors but hadn’t done for myself:
Read your book out loud. Listen for the rhythms. Listen for the flow. Hear the “rough spots” and make changes that enhance your writing. You’ve got this. Do it now!
Yes, it’s crazy (or maybe not really) that I offer that recommendation to authors but hadn’t offered it to myself. It’s true: We teach best what we most need to learn.
There have been two times so far when I got stuck as I read out loud. I knew changes were needed to tell the deeper truth of my story. One part almost derailed me again. Thankfully, I took a couple of days away and let the story move around within me. So, rather than getting stuck, I allowed the piece to work inside me. On the third day, I was able to return to the manuscript and bring out the deeper essence of that part of my story. Since then, I’ve been able to move forward with a level of ease. I’m now almost finished. I spend time each day reading in the quiet of early morning when I’m fresh and uninterrupted. I’ll keep at it, even if more pauses are required. I’ve decided to stop attaching deadlines to when I’ll be done. Moving forward is what’s important.
The Birthing Process
I also remind authors that as we work on our book, it takes on a life of its own. It will let us know when it’s time to pause or to move forward, and when it’s time to be birthed. I know my due date is near, but for today, I’ll continue to let my baby grow into its full potential.
In the meantime, I try to keep this quote in mind: “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.” ~Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin