Book edits are the new scorpions [UPDATED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

April 12, 2012 | 35 comments

Quite a few folks have asked if I’ve heard back from my agent about the book yet. I have! He got back to me last week, actually. I didn’t want to write about it during Lent since it would involve venting some frustration, but now it’s Easter so I am free to wallow in the depths of despair! (Wait. Am I doing this wrong?)

Anyway, here is the update for those of you who are interested. I realize that that is probably only a small percentage of readers, most of them who fall into the categories of:

  • Fellow writing nerds
  • People who enjoy watching train wrecks
  • PZ Myers fans who are still mad about that one post and are now following this book project closely so that they can be the first to give it a one-star review on Amazon
  • Saintly folks whose souls are so filled with love and generosity that they care about the follies of hapless internet people whom they’ve never met

(If you are not in any of those categories and have already begun to feel your eyes glaze over in mortal boredom at having read this far down the page, here is the charming blog of a teen girl who is discerning whether she is called to be a Carmelite nun, which you will find far more edifying.)

So I got the long-awaited email last Tuesday while I was stopped in a long line of traffic at a red light. Normally I don’t check email while my vehicle is running, but since I’d been waiting for this one for, oh, about four years, I gave myself a pass for a little in-transit inbox glancing. The response was long. But it looked good. Definitely good. There were lots of positive statements in the first two sentences, even words like “touching” and “interesting.” The light turned green so I had to put my smartphone down, and as I searched for a place to pull over I imagined what the rest of the email might say. I had noticed that there was a very long bulleted list at the end of it. That concerned me. But maybe I was being too negative! Maybe the list was all stuff like:

  • How did you write something so amazing?
  • You’re brilliant.
  • Would there be copyright issues if I had the first paragraph from p. 162 calligraphied onto finest parchment and hung in a golden frame in the center of my living room?
  • I’ve already hired a skywriting plane to proclaim that last sentence in Chapter 4 across the heavens.
  • Two acquisitions editors at Big-6 publishing houses just got in a knife fight over who gets to buy this masterpiece.

I had somehow managed to find myself in the one part of the city where there is not a single place to stop your vehicle, and finally just turned into the first drive I saw. Which ended up being a “BUSES ONLY” road behind a local school. That was One Way. And I was going the wrong way. I pulled the car onto the grass of the surrounding field to get out of the way of any buses that my be barreling down the road, and read the rest of the email. (I note that the moment I started reading, The Decemberists’ post-apocalyptic ditty Calamity Song came on the radio.)

Alas, that very long bulleted list did not consist of superlatives about the manuscript’s perfection, but was, as I had feared, a list of problems he’d encountered. After I got myself out of the restricted bus road and safely back to my house, I gave my agent a call, and he shared yet more constructive criticism. And I have to say, it was fantastic. I mean, his ability to spot where a manuscript is weak borders on being less of a talent and more of a superpower. Also, many of the changes he suggested were relatively minor (stuff like “I was confused about how much time passed between the end of Chapter 6 and the beginning of Chapter 7”) — so, no more rewriting. All great news. And yet I still found myself sinking into a PIT O’ DESPAIR after the phone call.

My husband was baffled that I wasn’t excited about this latest step, and asked me what was wrong. (When I sighed dramatically and just stared into the distance, he made a comment that whatever literary agents get paid, it isn’t enough. Let’s just say that my husband was not called to go into a line of work that involves dealing with writer angst.) For almost a week, I didn’t even know what the problem was. It’s taken me days to be able to articulate why I’ve found this latest round of feedback so dispiriting, and a couple more to be able to admit that I’m really this lame. But here it is:

I think the root of this latest round of writer-despair is that these edits go beyond making this book “decent.” I could do a lot less work, and I feel confident that it would be good enough to begin pitching it to publishers. I see now, with more clarity than ever before, that “good enough” is not an option here. And, umm, after four years, three full drafts, and countless revisions in between…I think I was ready to go ahead and settle for good enough.

The part of me that wants to create something high quality is excited about this realization; the lazy part of me that was thinking I was mostly done with the writing process, and would have happily accepted an “A for effort, ” is not quite as thrilled to hear that there’s a lot of hard work left to do.

Anyway, I know what I must do now: Feel endlessly sorry for myself. Call my friends and complain. Blog about it. Post passive-aggressive tweets on Twitter. Read one-star reviews of classic works of literature on Amazon and be all like “See! It’s not like this book is all that good either!” Actually, I’m not going to do anything for a few days. At some point I will probably adopt a prayerful attitude and dutifully tackle the work that is ahead of me, but I think I might just take a break for a few weeks and pretend that I never got myself onto the Sisyphean Wheel of Book Writing in the first place.

I suppose there is a plus side. I’ve been almost sorry (almost) that we have not spotted any scorpions inside ever since I begged our exterminator friend to hook up a fire hose to the most poisonous chemicals he has access to and just spray it all over the house. As nice as it’s been not to be confronted by stinging arachnids at every turn, I am at my most prolific when it comes to writing about scorpions. Every time I think about my house being overrun by these creatures, it turns me into a writer’s-block-smashing, blog-post-writing machine. And when you think about it, all those same conditions are there for book edits!: the uncertainty of when they will show up in my house, the scary look of them, the potential they have to deliver intense doses of hideous pain, and the fact that I have little control over when said intense doses of hideous pain might take place and how long they will last.

So, if anyone was worried that my poor Caps Lock key was being neglected because of my friendship with a local exterminator, never fear: the book editing process has evidently just begun, and should inspire me to at least as much mental anguish as a house overrun with poisonous arachnids. (Though I should warn you that there is always a chance that the scorpions could find their way back into the house during the book editing process. Classy readers may want to unsubscribe now.)

A I-SOLEMNLY-PROMISE-TO-YOU-I-AM-NOT-MAKING-THIS-UP UPDATE: My son was just stung IN THE FACE by a scorpion while sitting on the couch. FACE! SCORPION! COUCH! This is the EXACT part of the couch that I always sit on to feed the baby! Nevermind all this book stuff. Book? What book? I will be too busy moving. Then setting the house on fire once everyone is out safely. More on this later.


  1. Benjamin Baxter

    So instead of the Sisyphean wheel of writing, it’s the Sisyphean wheel of editing! Hurrah!

  2. Leila

    All I heard was “no more rewriting” and I rejoiced! But, easy for me to say.

    I simply cannot wait for the finished product.

  3. Julianne Douglas

    Jennifer, as a writer myself, I completely understand the depths of your writerly despair. You WILL make it through and the book WILL be fabulous! Kudos to you for not settling for “good enough.” God will grant you the grace, patience and skill to turn your manuscript into a gem that will touch many people’s lives. Take a break, then tackle those revisions with gusto. Exterminate the scorpions in your manuscript before they sting your readers. We’re all rooting for you!

  4. Pat J

    I am considering finding a rubber scorpion, dressing it in an editor’s outfit (whatever that is) and sending it to you. As Dori said in Finding Nemo, “Just keep editing; just keep editing,” or something to that effect. On a more serious note, please know you are being held up in prayer. There are so many of us that are THAT exciting about it.

    • Pat J

      Oops. “excited” Sigh. I need to edit my work more thoroughly. There is irony in there somewhere.

  5. Julia at LotsaLaundry

    Excellent news!

    The editing is all about perspective, and time does have a salutary effect on wounded expectations. (Which is why, I suppose God is outside time and we are in it! We need it, he doesn’t.)

  6. Diapeepees

    Honestly love to read this because it so familiar. (I’m thinking high school English class because I’ve never done a book…you know, “REWRITE!” in red.) I’m sure you were just writhing with the thought of more edits. I don’t think people realize how much pain is involved in writing. Torture, too. Yet we’re all strangely attracted…

  7. Rebecca @ Shoved to Them

    Editing a book sounds as if it could make it as one of Dante’s levels of Hell. I hate it when my husband points out a grammatical error in one of my blog posts. I think I would be near suicidal if I were you. Which is why you write books and I blog. See how nicely that works out?

    P.S. We’re going to be in Austin at the end of next week. Can I interest you in another park playday, pizza, and horrific sunburn?

    P.P.S. I have a fundraiser going on over at my blog for the orphans at Reece’s Rainbow. Get a Mother’s Day gift, help fund an orphan…..Can you help us spread the word?

  8. Smoochagator

    When I was in my Drawing 101 class in college, I thought I could kind of phone it in. I mean, I’ve been doing still lifes and shading and perspective drawing since I was in middle school. I GOT THIS. And most of the people in the class were just taking it as an elective, whereas I was a drawing major and was just pushing through the lower level classes to get to the stuff I didn’t know how to do. So imagine my surprise and anger and indignation when my teacher came over to me one day and said, “You’ve done this all wrong. You need to start over.” I was all, “Are you kidding me? Please talk to the bozos who can’t draw a straight line with a ruler! I mean, I know this isn’t all that great, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve already learned this concept.” But the great thing about that teacher was that she wanted ALL of her students to improve. No one got to rest on their laurels – not even me, who thought I knew it all and deserved an easy A. Isn’t that sad – I didn’t want an A for effort!

    All that being said – yes, of course you are tired and discouraged! And that’s okay. It’s a good thing, though, that you see the positives in this story and recognize that your agent has given you detailed, meaningful feedback and that your book is going to be not just good enough but great. You may not always feel giddy and happy about this process, but at least you’re growing and your sense of humor is intact 😀

    PLUS in the end you will have the satisfaction of knowing that all the rabid atheists out there will at least have to grudgingly admit in their one-star reviews that your book, though full of supernatural mumbo-jumbo, is an excellent example of storytelling. Better to be a fool that writes well than one that writes kind of so-so.

  9. Steph

    Oh my gosh that update!!! Hope your son is OK. GAH!

    Be careful what you wish for? Were you wishing for a scorpion?

  10. Vienna Gregory

    You had a very busy schedule. I hope you’d be able to publish the book pretty soon. We’re quite excited to read it. When should we expect it? Thanks for sharing your small daily adventures.


  11. Christy

    Wow, I can’t imagine this process. I suck at taking criticism. I suck at trying to perfect things. This is why I coasted through university happy with my B’s so long as I didn’t have to spend one more hour trying to decipher some more Aristotle. But writing a book is a beautiful accomplishment. You’ll never regret corrections, or making it better. I guess its like having a baby. The whole growing and pushing it out part stinks; but you have a beautiful baby for a lifetime!
    And what your husband said sounds exactly like what my husband would say. Sometimes you just want to have a pity party and they want to be all “positive” and “rational” and stuff.

  12. Heidi19

    Editing is good compare to copy all what is written in the book.. it’s against the copy right of course!
    The bad thing is, what happened to your boy? how’d the scorpion got into your couch? Gosh!

  13. Myrna

    Hope to see this book out soon. Anyway, how was your boy, hope he’s ok after the scorpion thing in your couch…. Hope everything will be alright.

  14. Christine

    Come to Minnesota! Too cold for them nasty critters!

  15. Kimberlie

    You don’t have to move to Minnesota, just move up to Oklahoma, we don’t have scorpions in Tulsa. Oh wait a minute… we have Brown Recluse spiders. Sorry, maybe you should move further north. LOL!

  16. Rhonda

    I’ll say a prayer for you!

  17. jen

    i think i’d be rolling in my hatemail from pz myers’ readers because he’s such a twit.

  18. Laura

    Oh my on the scorpion! Between the humidity and the scorpions, I really cannot imagine what keeps people in Texas!
    God Bless.

  19. Mary

    I knew God was gonna send you a scorpion, just to show you how much He loves you!

    I can’t wait for the book, so get busy!

  20. Erin

    I was thinking of your scorpion fear last night as I wrote about the bat that has taken roost above my sink, swooping through the house last night and overhead as we ate tea
    thought you’d appreciate the pics (perhaps not;)
    anyhow you have just trumped!! bitten on the face!!! how is he??

  21. Martha

    Greetings and sympathy from a fellow writing nerd. My history of our local fire department is almost (dare I say it?) finished after about four revisions and additional research since 2008. Take a break and then back to editing!

  22. Kristy

    I hate to say it, but… it’s time to move. Either that, or start collecting those scorpions for some kind of scorpion exhibit and plan on selling admission tickets.

  23. Trisha Niermeyer Potter @ Prints of Grace

    Isn’t it amazing how quickly our perspective on what’s earth-shattering changes when something more earth-shaking than the last thing we were worked up about comes along? Yeah, your son being bitten in the face by a scorpion on the couch where you usually feed the baby would definitely rank highest on the list of oh-my-goodness-stop-everything-and-end-this-now-events even with manuscript edits looming overhead.

  24. Amanda

    Oh, goodness. Hope he’s okay, Jennifer. Yes, moving would be on my mind, too.

  25. Allison

    That’s terrible! I hope he’s ok. But I would like to know how a scorpion gets all the way on your face without you noticing.

  26. Eva

    And THAT is exactly why I would never write aa book. That and the lack of actually being asked.


  27. Valerie @ Momma in Progress

    This is probably one of my favorite blog posts ever. I think I fall into the fellow writing geek category. I love reading about your thought process.

  28. Lora

    I’m sorry, but FACE! SCORPION! COUCH! was an absolutely hilarious ending. Made me laugh anyway. I do hope the little guy is okay, though. Good luck to you; I’m new to your blog and enjoying it very much 🙂

  29. Chalenevans

    Scorpion in your couch? uh oh.. i hope your kid is okay and far from the venomous scorpion bite. So scary..

  30. Melissa

    That is so ridiculous that your son got stung on the face! So sorry! Hope he’s getting better!

  31. shwell

    One Word – MAINE

    yes it is a state, a far northern state, there are no scorpians, no tornados, no earthquakes, no hurricanes (well some wind and stuff from other people’s), no venomous snakes, very homeschool friendly, reasonable amount of Catholics, you can go outside in the summer because it is not too hot, the kids want to go out in the winter to play snowball fights etc,
    I have been to TEXAS, I much prefer Maine………

  32. Lindsay (Young Married Mom)

    This totally describes my reaction to the last set of notes I got from my agent on my manuscript. This week I came to the realization that I’d given up, even though I told myself I was going to do the edit . . . eventually. Now I see what needs to be done, and I’m mustering the courage to do it. Thanks for putting words to this and giving me a kick in the right direction!

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