On Friday, April 1st I came home from work, logged onto Facebook, and was reminded that it was the deadline for two of my fellow EMUs to send their revised manuscripts back to their editors. Those two are Natalie (whose panic surfaced here at EMU’s Debuts last week), and Mike, whose Facebook post for Friday looked like this:
I don’t usually derive joy from the pain of others, but I have to admit Mike’s post delighted me. Three things seemed worthy of celebration:
1. Mike is back on Facebook after his revision hiatus (Yay!!)
2. Mike sent revisions to his editor right on schedule, a Herculean feat that keeps his book on schedule for publication! (Yay!!!!!)
3. Mike is even more uptight and neurotic about sending a manuscript off to his editor than I am (YAY!!!!!!!!!!!)
I know, Number 3 seems a little mean-spirited. No doubt some Mike Jung fans are crying in protest– “You’re the uptight neurotic one, not Mike!” But consider my Facebook post of January 16, regarding a similar moment in my life:
You see? ! I granted myself a full 24 hours (8 of which I was asleep) before freaking out.
Okay. So what of it, you are asking. Sure, Mike’s a bit twitchy. Name me one writer who isn’t. Is the whole point of this post just to drag his good name through the mud?
Absolutely not. I am writing this because these posts reveal a NEED. We writers need a manual on Zen and the Art of Manuscript Submission.
Zen Buddhism centers on meditation as a means to peace and enlightenment. Meditation strips away the hectic surface of our lives to reveal a calmer, deeper place where the ultimate reality of unity, love, and boundlessness may be experienced. Just the sort of place one needs to seek out after hitting that send button or slipping that dog-eared manuscript in the mail.
The irony is that writing is a very Zen sort of thing, at least for me, but it leads to revision and ultimately to submission, which is SO NOT Zen. To clarify, allow me to employ the Jeannie Mobley Ten Point Scale of Zenosity, wherein 1 is all hectic surface noise that keeps us from peace and truth, while 10 is Nirvana itself. Henceforth, I shall abbreviate this as the JMTPSOZ, which is admittedly a bad acronym, but a much worse hand in Scrabble.
Writing the First Draft rates somewhere around 8-9 on the JMTPOSZ. When I put pen to paper the noise and chaos recede and I sink into a deeper place. Hours pass unrecognized, words flow, threads of the story come together miraculously in ways I do not seek to understand. It is as if I am the instrument for a creative force greater than myself–it is the Zen of Writing. I re-emerge refreshed, deeply satisfied, reveling in my unity with the universe.
If writing is meditation, revision is work. So the revision process sinks on the JMTPOSZ to a 4 to 5. Note however, that we haven’t hit rock bottom here. Revision can be hard, but it’s satisfying too. Not the deep, Zen, spiritual satisfaction, but more of the Protestant Work Ethic sort, wherein accomplishment just feels GOOD! As long as I am blundering through the religious metaphors willy-nilly, this moment is more like the Conquering of the Wilderness–the Manifest Destiny of the acquired novel:
The Great Editor appeared and spoke thus to The Author, saying, “When thou hast made the changes writ herein, thou shalt find the promised land!”
And lo! The Author took from The Editor the Immense and Glorious REVISION LETTER and went forth, brandishing the Flaming Pen of Truth in one hand, and the Word Processor of Grammatical Accuracy in the other, and the unwashed hordes of characters with unclear motivations cowered before him! And when all was complete, the writer saw it was good, and offered up the glory of the Newly Revised Manuscript to the Great Editor, saying unto him, “Here is the most dog-eared, incoherent, raggedy-ass revision the world has ever seen!”
That last line kind of killed the whole religious moment I had going there, didn’t it? And that’s because that line moves us into the third phase.
Submission, whether it is to the agent, to acquiring editors, or to someone who already acquired the manuscript, it gets a negative 3 on the JMTPSOZ (I know, I just yanked you back to Buddhism. Think of this as sort of a fruit salad of religious philosophy.)
Submission is the part of the process that completely and utterly exposes us all to the most brutal noise and clutter in the world– the voices of self doubt and criticism that come shrieking in like Valkyries onto the bloodied battlefield of our creative minds (because what fruit salad is complete without some Old Norse Paganism?)
BUT here is my point, Mike (and anyone else who kept reading in the hope I might eventually have one):
Those Valkyries are illusions–their shrieks only empty noise. The deep, quiet place is still there-and as true as it ever was.
The time has come to rely on the Zen of Manuscript Submission. Please turn to page 3 and follow along.
Close your eyes, Mike. Breathe. Contract away from the noise, the clutter, the false voices that shout “you are a clueless, bumbling, bowl of neurotic Jell-O.” All writers hear them. They are liars and fools (the voices, not the writers.)
Draw in a deep breath and say to yourself “Arthur will…”
In breath: “Arthur will…”
Out breath: “…love it.”
“Arthur will…” on the in breath
“…Love it” on the out breath.
That’s it, Mike. Relax into it.
Okay, while Mike is doing that, I suspect the rest of you are thinking, she can’t REALLY know Arthur Levine will love it. Of course, you’re right. This is meditation, for heaven’s sake, it’s not fortune telling–and I don’t even know Mr. Levine. But here’s what I can say with confidence, and what we all have to say when the submission panic starts to rise.
Our editors are our allies.
They may not love our revisions and may send us back to the drawing board (or writing desk), but if they do, it is because they are attempting to achieve the Zen of Manuscript Submission too.
Our editors acquired our manuscripts because they love the stuff we drew out of the deep places of truth. In asking for revision they are helping us to peel away the noise and clutter so that the inner beauty can shine forth.
That’s right, Mike. Arthur Levine is your very own personal Zen Master. Fear not his opinion of your revisions, because even if he tells you they are incoherent, it is because he loves it. Now one more time. Breathe.
And if that doesn’t make you feel better, resort to chocolate.
After writing this I logged back onto Facebook, and saw Mike’s post, with this new comment:
Okay, Natalie. Relax. Breathe.
“Emily will…” with the in breath.
“…love it,” with the out breath….