On letting go

Merlin Mann, Mac geek and maverick productivity guru, has been writing a book for the last few years and he recently wrote a post on why it’s been so hard for him to finish it. It’s a touchingly personal, fiercely passionate piece and I strongly urge you to read it. But ultimately, his triumphant proclamations and daring bravado brought up a few things I thought were worth exploring a little further.

I understand the struggle of balancing family and passion for your work. When my first son was born and I was still a struggling unpublished writer (as opposed to a struggling published writer), someone told me that if I put my kids first during those first few formative years, I would never regret it. Well, I did put them first, and I don’t regret it. Maybe it slowed my career down a little, but I think it made me a hell of a better person, and by extension, a better writer. So maybe it didn’t slow down anything at all.

I understand the impulse to please your editor, and the follow-up impulse to resent your impulse to please your editor. I understand the frustration of not having total control of your book when it comes to covers, jacket copy, and other marketing and sales concerns. But you really can’t worry about pleasing people or what the thing will look like on a shelf. That’s fear and ego whispering in your ear. Just focus on the writing and worry about the rest when it’s time.

And here’s the thing: when it is time to deal with editors and covers, etc? It’s not just your book anymore. Other people have put time and effort and passion into it. Other people have a stake in it. Not just a financial stake, but a creative and personal stake as well. They have added their passion to it.

To be clear, I’m not saying roll over whenever someone “official” contributes something that you don’t agree with. I’ve stood my ground several times. If I hadn’t, Misfit would never have made the transition from manuscript to book (a story for another time). But while making a manuscript is a one person job, making a book takes many people. It is a collaboration with an acquisitions editor, a production editor, an art director, a cover designer, a copyeditor, a proofreader, and usually a few interns and assistants as well. Art by committee sucks, but collaborative art can be amazing. I worked in theater long enough to know that. At a certain point in the process, you have to trust your collaborators. At a certain point, you need to let go. Because in the end, when the book does get on a shelf, it’s not yours anymore, anyway. It’s the reader’s.

Perhaps this is more about me than about Merlin. After all, I’m in the process of slowly letting go of Misfit, which I have been working on in one form or another for 5 years. That’s also how long I’ve been working on my youngest son. And while my son’s got a few years to go before I let him run amuck in the world, my book comes out August 1st.

As I get ready for the launch and watch the book begin to find its way out into the world in the form of advanced review copies, the parting truly is such sweet sorrow. I’m sad to watch it leave my protection. It is such a strange and tender little thing, and I know there will be those who will be unkind to it. But for the people who are open to it, I’m so excited to see how they respond. Because a book continues to grow within readers until it becomes something even better than I could have ever imagined.