Till Human Voices Wake Us*

The voices I hear while drafting a new project are often quite pleasant. It's as if I'm underwater, floating in a dream world, surrounded by "sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown," only, you know, nice sea-girls, not the creepy Prufrockian ones. They sing their pretty songs, I write my pretty story; we all get along.

True, there are other voices present during the drafting stage, but I'm (usually?) pretty good at ignoring them. Worries over the Market, Trends, and What Is Overdone are the voices I hear, and I have no choice but to give them their say and then move on. For the most part, during drafting, I hear the mermaids singing (each to each), and the faint whooshes of waves rolling overhead, and the arrhythmic scribbles of my Uni-Ball Signo Retractable Micro-tip pen in Black Ink moving across the pages of my notebook.

At some point, though, the draft ends. I fiddle with it and do my best to get it ready for critique. The outside voices get louder as I try to view my manuscript with new eyes, predict what my critique group will think needs work. I become my own worst critic, sighing at overused words and phrases, thinking the emotions read falsely or don't read at all, the characters are clich├ęs, the world-building is two-dimensional or unoriginal.

Mostly I can handle this. If you're here, you can handle it too, because anyone who can't handle it doesn't stay in this business for long.

Here's what I can't handle: coming up for air, floating, seeing the flaws in my precious new book, and hearing, beneath the sounds of the waves and mermaids and clich├ęs, the voices of my family. They're in the other room, playing with blocks or reading a Magic Tree House book. I look at the pile of pooey words in front of me and here's the worst part: my husband and kids don't have to say a single word, because all the reproach comes from a voice within:

You have wasted your time, time you could have spent with them, on a stack of papers that probably only a handful of people will ever read.

The guilt is an ocean of water filling my throat, daring me to breathe it in.

It's the voice that makes me choke, flail, and drown.

And before this drives anyone to their antidepressent medication and/or dark chocolate peanut butter cups, that's also the voice that makes me run to the other room to play with my kids--a welcome breather before returning to the underwater revision cave.

*with all kinds of apologies to T. S. Eliot


First of all, Beth, I am a forever fan of your artwork. Just love it. And I love your description of this whole process.

Gotta amuse myself somehow....

Yes, we are all our own worst critics! Definitely agree that playing with littles is a welcome breather after a hard day of writing... Their joy is contagious :)

Breathers are vital, even for mermaids. Even for gophers dressed up as mermaids (so truly engagingly!). Go get 'em, Beth.

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