This has been a year of writing milestones for me, and I’m rapidly approaching one more. Soon, I’m going to finish a book I started more than two years ago, and that I’ve been working on steadily since.
I didn’t understand that this would actually be a milestone, or what it would feel like, until last week just before my last revisions deadline. There’s no elegant way to frame it: I was a mess. There is, of course, more time– more opportunities to edit, to polish, to rephrase. But this was the last major revision, and I realized that this was the start of a next phase, one I hadn’t anticipated. The letting go.
For almost two and a half years, this book has been a mainstay of my private, inner life. I have turned to it for solace in deeply difficult times, typing alone on my iPad in the dark, in the middle of the night, when worry and anxiety woke me. I have written on subways, trains, and airplanes. In transit is one of my favorite ways to write, it seems (I’ve just passed South Station, incidentally, as I type a first draft of this blog post). I can remember where I was when I wrote a pivotal scene. Trite as it may be, I wrote about the elementary school self-portrait that first made me realize that the color of my own skin didn’t match my parents’ as I was sitting on the ledge of the Lincoln memorial on a beautiful and clear D.C. day. I wrote one of my rawest scenes one day in a hotel room in South Carolina, where I was attending a conference, after an angry phone call with a family member. I can still remember the ice bucket on the table next to me, the sleek hotel desk built into the wall, the sounds of people milling outside at an outdoor market, as I banged at my keyboard, spilling my frustration into pages. I remember the warmth of my boyfriend, now ex, who slept beside me as I typed away in or dark bedroom, trying to tilt my iPad screen so I wouldn’t wake him as I wrestled with a hard-to-pin-down exchange. I remember the cold of my drafty old row house in England, as I huddled under a twin comforter for warmth, wrapped in layers of sweatshirts capped off by a fuzzy pink bathrobe, and reread what I’d written the night before, surprising myself into laughter.
All this is wrapped up in my words, enmeshed in a story that is personal and raw and very much still alive.
It will be a while before my book is a book. But someday, in the not too (too) distant future, it will be. I am beside myself with happiness. And I am learning that letting go, that surrendering these stories that are so intimate is hard, even as it’s one of the most exciting things I feel I’ll ever do.
I know that soon, I’ll have a new idea, and I’ll start the next book, and I’ll have a whole new set of challenges and fears to contend with. But for now, I realize that I’m enjoying being with my ending, with all its difficulties and unexpected emotion. I look back at the book I began two-and-a-half years ago, and I can’t believe how far it’s come. I can’t believe what has been teased out, finessed, and developed. I can’t believe the characters and relationships that have emerged.
And as I look at my chapters and remember where I was when they were first set down, I realize too that my book tells another story. I look at it and see the people who have emerged to guide me as I’ve written and revised my first-ever book. I see the writing sample I submitted to the Writers’ Room, and I remember the excitement of my first ever reading, and the encouragement that followed. I see my editor’s nuanced and prescient eye, my agent’s rigorous and right cuts, my sisters’ faces when they came across a joke that was just right, my best friends’ gestures as they helped me to storyboard a new scene and unlocked the energy within it.
In my story, I see so many others. And I realize, frankly, in writing this blog post, that as scary as it is to share them, it is a special kind of terrifying joy to do so.
-Susan Tan, 2015 Gish Jen Fellow for Emerging Writers