The Big Picture

One day, one night, one moment, my dreams could be, tomorrow.” — Enya

So, I couldn’t sleep last night — hardly got a wink. I was all set to. After signing off on that final draft of my manuscript and putting it in the hands of my publisher, I thought for sure I’d drift right off. But then suddenly, I remembered a word in the opening sentence that was capitalized.

Now, there was a chance that the word should be capitalized. But, I could also think of a couple reasons why it might need to be lowercase. And if that was true, then there it was: an error in the opening sentence.

After tossing and turning all night I got up for work this morning and thought about it more. Like most people in this day and age, I also got on facebook for a bit — 5 more fans of the book, all waiting anxiously to read it.  Great, but… what if that book had a word capitalized that shouldn’t be?

Okay, I needed to talk to my editor. The thing is, I was in no mood for e-mail — sending something and then watching my inbox like a hawk until a new message finally pops up. No, this situation needed a phone call.

I just had to find his number.

There’s a folder in my Outlook e-mail entitled “book” where I put all things related. I probably should’ve written down my editor’s number a long time ago, but I didn’t. So I had to scroll through to our initial back and forth two years ago to find it. I started typing the down arrow and… oops!  I scrolled down too far… Or, maybe not too far.

The first e-mail in that folder is from August 28, 2007, and is simply meant as a “save” e-mail. Yes, I know I should invest in an external hard drive, but for the time being, just to make sure I never lose something particularly important, I often send documents to myself and file them away. The version in that e-mail is the oldest version of the book there ever was, the version I’d been working on since 2004… and it doesn’t even go past Chapter 25.

A few e-mails up, there’s a series of messages from Fall 2008 to my “initial readers” as I called them. “Here guys, here’s the final draft of my book. I’ll be sending you a printed copy next week (long story about Fedex Kinkos that I’ll save for another day), and here are the things I’d like you to look for.” There are also a number of responses back from that group of friends and family with things like, “Can’t wait to read it!,” and “So proud of you for finishing!”

Again… 2008.

I’ve got a few more “save” e-mails with the revised versions after that. Those nine people had some great feedback, and I incorporated just about all of it. Now, I had a true version entitled “Final.” All I needed was an editor.

The phone number was indeed in one of those Fall 2009 e-mails from my then new editor, but for the moment, it didn’t matter. Instead, I focused in on an e-mail from December 2009 where, after a few review sessions, he told me I literally needed to rewrite the entire book. The story was there, sure, but what I had was an essay. I needed scenes, characters, playing it out as though a reader was there in my head with me during all of those experiences.

I still remember getting that message, three days before my best friend and I were headed to Paris. I understood everything my editor was saying, but I needed a couple days to just sit with it, figure out where I’d start, and as long as I was on vacation, why not? I thought about it often as I roamed the streets of what is now my favorite city, taking in the Eiffel Tower and other scenery, and came back with some great ideas for the opening scene. I had Chapter 1 finished by the end of the holidays.

Chapter 1. As in 49 chapters more and I’d have a finished copy again.

In December 2010, 12 months later, I thought I did. My editor signed off, and I sent the “final draft” to that folder to save.Time to send some query letters to agents, my project for the next couple of months.

In March, I have some e-mails from when the idea of Evolved Publishing came along. With this company, I could publish my book now, or at least soon if I wanted. Great! One last review to make sure it was ready for primetime, and then I’d be set.

Did you know a memoir is typically supposed to be between 75,000 and 80,000 words? I didn’t, and at the time, mine was 93,000. According to a few more e-mail exchanges entitled “cut like crazy,” in the course of three months, my editor and I took it down to 80 — a lot of reconstruction, a lot of updates. A lot of more editing.

We finally finished at the end of this summer, and all I needed now was an independent reviewer. Let her make a few simple suggestions and I’ll be good to go — let’s get this thing out by Halloween!

Or, according to the e-mail she sent back, maybe I should restructure the first 8 chapters entirely.

Hence, why there are about fifteen more e-mails in that folder with “updated” copies to and from my editor, all the way to yesterday, with that final signoff.

It turns out, after I finally called him this morning, that the word I was concerned about is actually fine being capitalized — good to show emphasis and importance to the readers. But there is a much a bigger lesson to take away than proper capitalization.

When I got to my dream school and cried every night from homesickness, I couldn’t imagine staying all the way to graduation. I did, and graduation day was one of the proudest days of my life — I’d reached a goal I’d been working towards for 4 whole years.

I’ve been writing this book for 7.

If you got bored with all of those e-mails above, I apologize, but each one helps to demonstrate the magnitude of this journey, and why it’s now almost comical that I lost a night’s sleep over a single word.

I’ve heard it said that “success often comes to those who are too busy to look for it,” but if you’re too busy, or too caught up in the small things, to appreciate how far you’ve come once in a while, then you need to take a step back.

I know I’m going to. After a few more good nights of sleep the rest of the week, Saturday night will be a huge celebration of the release, complete with friends, family, and some wine I’ve been saving for two years — I purchased it in Paris.


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