Several months ago I wrote a blog about pressing the "send" button on my manuscript for Children of the Stars. That seems like lifetimes ago. Almost nothing has captured my attention or focus but the work of finishing this book. I am almost there. The proofs will be back in a week or so. The cover is designed.
Most of the time I loved working on the now re-titled, Star Child. But there were tense periods as I grappled with editorial suggestions, a few nagging doubts of my own about certain sections of texts, and a bit of angst over the cover design. The struggle felt visceral and outsized for the task at hand. I worried that changing too many of the words I had written and then memorized over the years would erase the natural rhythm and poetry I had long ago committed to the page. I wanted the work to be more accessible, but still retain a sense of timelessness and mystery. Often I just wasn't sure what to do or how to respond, what to let go of, what to embrace.
Writing fiction is certainly different than composing recipes and essays or poetry. Fortunately I found both direction and solace from the characters themselves. They had their own things to say about what they wanted and offered great clarity in those moments of confusion. I was forced to re-trace the steps of my characters and learn from them. Ironically, Star Child is a story about remaining true to ourselves as we navigate a complex world... and finding ourselves again when we lose our way. The editing process became the story within the story.
Sometimes I would retreat to my meditation space and specifically ask, then await some sort of answer. My questions varied. "What would you say here? How would you feel? Did what I write feel true, authentic?" As I sat there, different characters offered different advice. Words would bubble up like, "This doesn't feel right." "Trust your heart." "Have courage." "Be humble."
Other times, I didn't have to ask. I would get a funny gnawing feeling that a word or phrase was wrong or even missing. Sometimes I woke up with this feeling. Late in the process, I felt one of the characters wanted to say something else, that he was not finished and I should bring his presence back into the story. I did and felt a sense of completion when he found his way onto the page, his words clear and unexpectedly in the form of a prayer.These revisions of course caused a lot of extra work for my very patient editor and book designer. Every time I thought I was done, and something got "fixed" I would notice something else.
What drove me was not a sense of perfection, but rather this story itself and a need to commit fully to the telling of it. I was "all in" and it wouldn't let go of me.
Often I just needed to clear my mind and be in the world. I would head outside with my dog and take an aimless walk in the woods to feel the ground under my feet. Over the holidays I took up jewelry-making. I found great comfort in stringing beads one by one in a physical mirroring of the task of arranging sentences on a page.
I recently read a wonderful essay in the New York Times by Jhumpa Lahiri, the author of The Namesake. Her quote below captures the essence of the process.
"As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. They enter into the blood. They seem to replace it, for a while. When something is in proofs I sit in solitary confinement with them. Each is confronted, inspected, turned inside out. Each is sentenced, literally, to be part of the text, or not. Such close scrutiny can lead to blindness. At times -- and these times terrify -- they cease to make sense... And yet, at a certain point, I must walk away, trusting them to do their work."
In my case the words did not merely enter my blood, they grew out of something in me that even I did not fully understand. One of my dear teachers asked me if there was a purpose to my book. At various times in this journey I was intent that not only the book have purpose, but that it give me purpose as well. But my answer is that I don't know if it has purpose. I only know that I found great joy and passion in writing it. I hope that joy is what remains in the words. I will trust them to do their work.
Kay Goldstein writes about meditation, relationships and food. Her first novel, Star Child, for young adults will be published in August, 2012. www.lessonsforthecook.com