My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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the editor’s karate chop

Another lesson in what it is to be a writer: as you may know, I’ve been working on a memoir for a few years and finally thought I was onto something solid that was working – voice, structure, story. I gave some pages yesterday to my mentor, Mr. W. Ch*y. This morning I called to apologise for burdening him; to say, don’t bother reading, I know what I’m doing, you have enough to do already and I’ll be fine without you.

I’ve read six pages, he said, and what I want to know is: why are you wasting your energy and my time on this material? I’m wondering when you’re going to get to the real story.
Ah. Not quite what I was expecting to hear.
You’re staying at the surface, he said, so busy arranging and organising your material and not going to the depths where the real story is. There’s nothing real. It’s an essay, not a book. Why would I read this story? Where’s the drama? Where’s the insight?
Throw all this away and start again, he said, like a real writer.
Dear reader, allow me a moment of mourning. How many hours to get here? Hundreds, perhaps. Is Mr. Ch*y just a nasty sonofabitch who can’t see this wonderful work of brilliance? I know he is right. I think I gave him the pages so I’d hear what he’s saying. On the surface I thought it was working; underneath, I knew it wasn’t good or deep enough. I just needed a giant slap, a kick in the pants. Which I just got.
The sun is shining; it’s a beautiful November day, soft and relatively warm. I will go for a walk and try not to be discouraged. I’ve just been given a gift. You have such talent, he said, and you’re wasting your time. I do not understand why it’s so, but it’s the truth. Not the talent bit but the wasting bit. All the things I hear my students say over and over – Who’d want to hear my story? Why should I go back to where it hurts? – all those things are my problems too.
Tell us your story, he said, no one else’s story, not a universal story, just your story of who you were and who you became.
If it weren’t for this wise and generous man I’d be spinning my wheels forever. With all he has to do, including his own book, he is taking the time to give me a giant shove. Throw it all out and start again, he said, and that is what I will do.
But first, I’ll eat a lot of chocolate, go to my yoga class, come home and drink a lot of red wine. And then I’ll start again. He’s right, I know it for sure, I’ve always known it. And how lucky I am to have someone to tell me the truth. Even if it hurts. Which it does.

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2 Responses to “the editor’s karate chop”

  1. Hi Beth,

    A hard and powerful story…. I think of the Zen phrase "grandmotherly kindness", which consisted of hitting the student upside the head with a stick to get his attention. Useful, wise, and so hard. I'll toast the draft I'll never see in honour of the work it took to get there, and look forward to the one we'll see in published form somewhere down the road.

    peter

  2. beth says:

    Peter, what a thoughtful, well-written note. I shared my critique story with the world, and particularly with my students, so they know that the process of editing, of submitting work for inspection, can be brutal. No place for thin skin here.

    Many thanks for your faith. You're invited to the book launch.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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