Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The honeymoon period: I've written the book, but no one has read it yet

I keep reminding myself that these few short days are the honeymoon period for my book.

The book is in print, the publicity effort has been launched, the order button on various websites has been enabled. The book exists.

And yet, and yet, no one yet has the book in hand. The earliest the printer could promise it, via the fastest shipping available – which I have no reason to think anyone but me opted to pay for – was later this week. No electronic version of my book exists publicly. Both draft copies are in my possession.

So what that means is that my book is completed but there’s no one in the world with a copy of it in hand right now. No one is actually reading it at this moment. Most likely no one will read it tomorrow either. Not until the end of the week…and that’s only if someone were to read it the moment it arrived in the mail, which not only modesty but reality forces me to admit is highly unlikely.

Hence, the honeymoon period. Right now, I get to float along on the victorious sense that my book is done – after more than three years of work, it’s done – and everyone who knows me seems happy for my success. My success in completing my book, that is. No one is congratulating me on my success in having written a good or readable or worthwhile book, because no one has read it yet.

So I’m fully immersing myself in this lull, this brief time before I have to get down to the serious anxiety about what people think of it. Soon enough – within a matter of days – there will be people actually reading my book. Even if they don’t rip it open the minute the mail carrier drops it on their doorstep or in their mailbox, within a few days they’ll be scanning the opening pages, flipping through, checking out the back cover or the acknowledgments. Right now is the only time I get to bask in the pride of having finally finished this long-struggling project, without having to confront any actual criticism.

Because the fact is, there will be criticism. It’s a provocative book on a controversial topic: how I challenged my 9-year-old to run a mile or more with me every day for a year. On the most basic level, that plan was controversial from the outset, as I explain in the book: when I went to an online discussion group for runners, expecting to find other parent/child combinations attempting to maintain a long running streak, I found no endorsements at all, only anonymous posters saying they thought my idea was an awful one.

But that’s the easy part of the controversy, the part about whether or not it’s okay to encourage a nine-year-old to run a daily mile. What’s harder is that the thoughts about parenting I’ve so candidly shared in the book are themselves divisive in some ways. I had about eight friends and family members read the manuscript during the revision process; most liked it, but one or two warned me that it was simply too harsh; that by being so judgmental in some ways and downright negative in others, I was creating in myself an unsympathetic character, a mother who was far too critical of her own child.

So the revision process, for me, was mostly an effort of toning it all down, stage after stage. I removed one adjective after another, finding ways to be ever less caustic in my parental observations. Too much, some of the readers had warned. Too much negativity, too much anxiety, too many questions about what constitutes good parenting.

In other words, I’ve already had a taste of the mixed reactions my book provokes. And that was among just eight readers. In another few days, ten times that many people might be reading it and judging me.

But after three years of work to get this book completed, I honestly believe I’m ready. I understand that some people will be taken aback by the raw honesty with which I depict the less joyful aspects of parenting and family life. Just as people asked us how a mother could submit her son to the physical rigors of a daily mile while we were doing the streak, people have asked me how I can be so candid about both the positive and negative aspects of my life.

My children have seen this book. They know what I write about and how I write. My parents and my husband do too. They accept it for what it is: my best attempts to give literary expression to my most authentic feelings. I know that some readers of my book won’t really like it all that much. Others, I hope, will like it a lot. But of course, I don’t know. And in the end, all I can really hope for is that everyone who reads it respects the fact that I took the time to write it.

Time will tell. But right now, I’m just enjoying the lull between publication and availability. I’ll never have these few days again, when the congrats-on-publishing are pouring in but there aren’t any how-could-you-say-all-of-this to balance it out. The time will come, but for right now, I’m happy to be in this buffer zone, this post-publication, pre-printing cone of serenity.

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