At the end of 2015, I had finalised the first draft of my memoir manuscript and decided to engage the services of an editor for a structural edit. After contacting my writing class teacher, she recommended a couple of editors specialising in memoir. Early January, I printed out over 200 pages and posted my 65,000 words to the editor. She confirmed the receipt and advised that I could expect her report in three weeks time.
Those three weeks were quite nerve-wracking. I tried not to worry too much about the feedback of the editor and write other things, but it was hard to stay focussed. Luckily, we also happened to have one of our writers’ group meetings where I submitted one chapter from the manuscript for critique and feedback from my fellow writers. As always, the writing group did not fail to deliver valuable feedback and encouragement. I truly believe that without them I would not have come that far in twelve months.
When the three-weeks-mark was over, I received an email from the editor saying that she had posted the manuscript and that it should arrive soon. The next day, I found the Express envelope on our door step. Nervously, I took the envelope inside and placed it on the sofa in my office. I decided not to open it before I had finished the design job I was working on.
A few hours later, I took my courage and cut the envelope open. I found a detailed report, addressing the strengths of my manuscript – I was particularly pleased about the points she mentioned – and then outlining the areas that need further work. I had to read the report several times to grasp all the aspects of her feedback. I then used coloured markers to highlight the strengths and her recommendations how to improve and polish the manuscript. The next day, I reread the report again.
Coincidentally, I came across a blog post from one of my favourite writing blogs, The Write Practise, called 10 Things About Rough Drafts I Learned From My First Novel. This post exactly captured my feelings and the situation I was experiencing. Getting to the end of my first draft had been unbelievable. I had worked all year in 2015 to achieve this goal. And I had made it.
Reading the editor’s report, I knew, of course, that there was still a way to go, but the majority of the work was done. I had made 75 per cent of the way already. When a feeling of overwhelm crept up inside me, I went back to the blog post from The Write Practise, point 3: “A rough draft is a hot mess.” The author recommends to accept the mess, embrace it and shape it into an amazing story. This was exactly what I needed to hear that day.
Now, a few days later, I have embraced the mess in my manuscript and started working already on implementing the recommendations. One of the main points I need to drill down is the audience of my memoir. In our very first writing class in 2015, the teacher asked us why we were in her course. I remember that I explained I wanted to write down my life’s story as a legacy for my children, who were very young when we left their country of birth to move to Australia. However, during the writing process, I identified a major turning point in my life that led to another turning point ten years later. I, then, realised that I not only wanted to research about our family history but also encourage other people to step out of their comfort zone and try new things; be open to the opportunities that come with change.
The biggest challenge for me now is to get the big picture right, restructure the manuscript to build a narrative arc to keep the reader engaged from the prologue to the epilogue. The Write Practise has again some motivating words at hand: “Because if you can get through a complete rough draft, you’ve got what it takes to see it to the finish line.” I will keep you posted.
Read my previous writing journey posts here:
What Downsizing and Memoir Writing Have in Common
What Others Told me
The Magic of Memoir Writing