“The last forty pages are the best part of the book.”
“The last third of the book should be cut. The best part of your story is your fiancé’s death. Not sure why the rest is there.”
“There is too much about how you feel. It’s too interior. We need more scenes.”
“There is not enough feeling. You tell us what happened, but how did you feel as it was happening?”
When I finished the fourth revision of my memoir, Good Enough?, I sent it out to 15 people I know – thoughtful writers and readers, great friends – people whose feedback I hoped would guide me forward.
Lots of useful feedback came in. But much of it was contradictory. And I had no idea what to do.
This confusion was disorienting and paralyzing – I’m usually a person who knows exactly how to edit. I worked in communications for more than 25 years! Sixteen people fighting about what the CEO should say in her speech? No problem. I knew exactly who to listen to and who to ignore. But this? Add more feeling? Take the feelings out? I had no idea.
Without the exoskeleton of my professional expertise I felt wobbly – like I was standing on pudding. The ground underneath me was wiggly, squishy and unpredictable. I didn’t know the rules. I had never written a book before! I’d never written anything this personal before!
For a while, I just stewed, confused and anxious. I re-read the feedback. I read lots of other memoirs, and books about memoirs. And I stewed some more.
After about six weeks of wobbling around on the pudding, I saw A Star is Born.
Jackson takes Ally out on the terrace in Los Angeles and they stand there, with a huge billboard of her face in the background. As they stare at Ally’s giant image, he says, “If you don’t dig deep in your soul, you won’t have legs.”
That scene pierced me down to the bone marrow. I finally knew what to do. I was flooded with energy. Thanks Jackson and Ally!
That night I pulled out a hard copy of the manuscript and stayed up way past my bedtime going through it with a red pen – noting every spot to dig deeper, every place to add more vulnerability, more truth, more to give my story (and myself) strong legs.
I finished revision #5 on December 31, 2018. And now the manuscript is marinating, while I dig deep writing a series of essays. Working on these new pieces feels great, because the pudding has gelled into a real foundation. What a relief! I need that foundation as I start to do what every writer does when that final edit is complete – build an audience and bring the work out to the world!