You know that tremendous weight of something being nearly finished but not quite? It is not a burden, this weight. It is thick with anticipation and heavy with significance. The matter paces the circuit of your brain, refusing to step off your mental homestead even while you focus elsewhere. It is always there, always present in the shadows, biding its time. It waits for that break in the day when you’ll pull it back into the light. It looks forward to those end of the evening hours when, despite the tiredness, you can’t bring yourself to be so cruel as to make it wait until tomorrow. It knows you’ll come for it if it simply holds its ground.
The book proposals are almost finished.
Oh, my friends. My dear reader friends. I am inching ever closer to the end of my intensive revisions of the manuscript. Every week I add another stack of pages to the “finished” pile and watch the “to-do” pile shrink. I can see the end. It’s out there; up a few small hills, hugging the horizon, waiting to greet me. Not that it’s the true end. It’s only another necessary phase of the work. Next up: an out loud reading of my novel to find mistakes and weaknesses overlooked by the eye but noticeable to the ear. Still, it is an end. It is a finish line I’ve been striving for since the start of 2016.
There are times I tell myself to calm down about it all. I fill my brain with warnings about expectations and hopes and dreams. They’re dangerous.
Wasted warnings; it can’t be helped. This manuscript is my masterpiece and I have to treat it as such. I don’t know if it will be a masterpiece in anyone else’s eyes but it is in mine. That fact means it needs to be offered to others. That’s the latest lesson I’ve learned.
My almost three year old son often returns from the sitter’s house with a new piece of artwork. He is invariably proud of them. This includes those that are purely his, that don’t show evidence of how much the sitter helped him but rather look, plain and simple, like the work of a toddler. I arrive home from my workday and he hands them to me with his head held high and a hint of wonder in his voice as he announces, “I made that!” They are his masterpieces. Even when I have to ask him to interpret the picture before I can see the train or the truck or the dog, they are his masterpieces.
Masterpieces aren’t meant for the maker alone. They are meant to be held up for anyone to see. At risk of rejection and criticism, indifference and even cruelty, they are to be offered. Because maybe my masterpiece might make another person’s day better; maybe it could plant a seed of faith in what is good and true and beautiful; maybe it could edify the heart and mind of a person brought low by lesser things. It could make someone laugh deep in their gut like we all love to laugh. It could bring joy or insight or inspiration. You never know. You never know.
We’re all capable of masterpieces. We were designed to provide masterpieces to the rest of our human family. Each unique; each requiring vulnerability and courage. When we create them, we know it. As we are filled with the urgent need to show it to someone, risks be damned, we know what we have created. Want to know why Facebook and YouTube and Instagram are so absurdly successful? Because we long to share our masterpieces with the rest of world. That’s not what we are doing most of the time in those mediums but it’s a large part of what drives us to use them at all.
My masterpiece might end up only being a masterpiece in my eyes. Or, at most, the eyes of those who love me dearly, much like a toddler’s indecipherable depiction of a train. In the end, that’s not what matters. What matters is the completion of the masterpiece and it simply is not complete until it is offered to others.
Yesterday, in a half hour’s time, I thoroughly rearranged the flow of chapter one of Full of Days. Mostly the same details and action, different order. I think I have improved it. I am never certain because no matter how many times I revise my book, I can always find more to change. It causes me to wonder how I will ever know when it is ready to be sent out alone into the big, scary world of manuscript submissions. This never ending journey known as Revision makes me laugh at the fact that I tried to find a publisher so soon after my first draft was completed all those years ago. Oh, innocent, naive Carrie Sue.
Every reader knows that the first pages of a book are critically important for creating a desire to read further. This is as true for publishers as it is for readers. So, no pressure on perfecting that first chapter, Ms. First Time Novelist. Nope, no pressure at all.
Chapter one’s needs have hounded me. The feedback I’ve received from readers and my own experience as a reader made it clear that it has never quite been what it needs to be. I sit and stare at the lines of the pages and I am stuck. My brain locks into “I wrote it this way for a reason” mode and I can’t seem to see how to make more than minor tweaks.
What inspired me to finally tackle the rearranging of the first chapter was some time spent listening to The Piano Guys. These immeasurably talented men gave me the perspective I needed. In addition to other beautiful pieces, they specialize in covering popular hit songs on pianos and cellos and more. Often the covers are composed as mash ups with gorgeous classical pieces. The result is incredible and I could listen for hours. Here’s a favorite. Give it a listen and then come back to me.
See what I mean? A feast for the ears. Listening to them yesterday, song after song, I could not stop marveling at what they accomplished via a new approach. They take material already created, already well known in its first form, and approach it from a new direction. A new angle, a new order, a new combination, and, voila! A new creation.
Of course as I type up these thoughts, it becomes clear that this perspective applies to a whole lot in life. Yesterday though, I was simply grabbing hold of the inspiration to rewrite chapter one yet again.
Maybe that chapter is ready now. Maybe The Piano Guys led me to where I needed to be. Maybe there’s still more to change. Time will tell. The lesson that a radially new approach to the same material can produce beautiful results is one I’ll hang onto as I continue on my way.
Ok, here’s another, just for fun.