Author, Speaker, Advocate, and Entrepreneur

Author, Speaker, Advocate, and Entrepreneur
Valerie Anne Burns

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

My Manuscript is Taunting Me


     There it sits. After years of work and literally blood sweat and tears, (including gallons of fluid post-surgeries) I have a draft. A couple months ago, I was connected to a smart and capable editor through an old friend, and knew immediately she was the perfect one. There was no long Google search for fabulous non-fiction editors and asking other writers for a referral. My experienced editor magically came into my life. I was 3/4 of the way through my second pass when we made the decision to work together.    
     Truly motivated, I worked day and night to finish. I felt this great sense of relief to hand it over for a fresh pair of eyes to hopefully ground me in some brilliant way. I was both terrified and excited to see what would come back. Six weeks later, I received my manuscript with smart and daunting notes to create a polished draft. My editor, enthusiastic about my writing and the potential of my book creating a new form of creative non-fiction, decided it was her calling to shepherd me through to a finished draft. Needless to say, I was deeply grateful. There is nothing simple about the next step though... more like 10 steps to accomplish this re-write fete. 
     I printed out the 200 plus pages. It's the first time I've seen my book in hard copy. I was struck by its weighty content. For several days, it sat on the table taunting me. I simply stared at it. So many thoughts ran through my head: I can't do this. The editor has such astute notes and I don't want to let her down. I'm not a good enough writer to pull off the vision my editor has in mind. I was the one who supported writers for film by working story ideas and editing, but never the writer. I can't survive another failure...on and on the thoughts flowed. All my insecurities ran amok forcing me to face the dragon.
     Several years ago, when I took the one and only writing class through Adult Ed, my beloved teacher, Anne, told me to apply for a full scholarship to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. I asked her to repeat what she'd just said. I was a rookie. For the next few weeks, Anne continued to ask, and I trusted her so I relented and applied. I won a full scholarship. I was surprised--Anne wasn't. It was no different when I applied to the prestigious Prague Summer Writing Program. I was in the middle of a difficult recovery from a 6th surgery, and I was seeking something to occupy my mind...something to dream about. It was also an exercise to gain experience in putting together a writing submission. 
     When I received not only the acceptance, but a $1000 scholarship, I sobbed. It was the most exciting and stunning news I'd received in a very long time. Every talented writer (my co-students where 95% of them were younger than me) in the program possessed a B.A., M.A., PhD or even a Doctorate. Not me. It was both flattering and intimidating to be attending. One thing's for sure, it kept me on my toes! And I basked in the stimulating beauty of Prague while gaining a learning experience that will never leave me.
     By now, I should be use to being the fish-out-of-water. It seems as though I've flown by the seat of my pants my entire life. Jump in and do it. No formal training. I talked my way into the film business and proved myself from there. I have fashion and design background, but having a good eye is an instinctual talent. I started my business as a makeover specialist for wardrobe and home with a business card only. I knew no one in town and built it brick-by-brick. Writing the book is my latest venture and it's been a long winding road to get to this moment
     But, I've never fully tasted success. Certainly not financially.
    Like I said, I get by by the seat of my pants. I rise to the occasion as best I can. And, as the manuscript weighs down my little drop-leaf table, I must meet the challenge. I feel exhausted knowing the concentrated focus it will require to succeed. I vacillate from renewed faith to a feeling that the book is drifting out to sea while I remain isolated and frozen in contemplation of a lifetime of insecurities and setbacks. 
     Personally, I find it fascinating that faith in myself is buoyed by a person I highly respect having immense faith in me. Why do many of us do this? Why do artists continually doubt themselves? I envy those who possess strong foundations and go boldly in the night. There's a part of me that believes that kind of brazen faith in oneself comes first, from a parent's unconditional love, support, and pride. Perhaps this is naive, but I have a nagging sense that it's the missing link for me.
     When I attended a reading recently, the director of the event asked if there was any news from the audience. I raised my hand to acknowledge the friend I'd shown up to support who was doing a reading from her book of short stories--A friend and co-student, I hadn't seen since our Prague writing program and great adventure. I quickly added: "And, I just finished a draft of my book". Everyone acknowledged my statement. It was an impressive reading by seasoned writers. Later, when I gave kudos to one of the writers who read poems, he said, "hey, congrats on completing your draft... that is a big accomplishment". Yes, I must give myself credit for getting this far. I've yet to celebrate a giant step toward the finish line, but I plan to.
     Maybe when I clink cocktail glasses with a friend for my accomplishment, I'll take a deep breath and muster the confidence and energy to take on the task at hand. The task and worthy adventure millions of writers have taken on before me. 
     I will finish my book.

Keep on swimming through life,