Letting Go

Friday was my last day with Portrait of a Lady Novelist. I went through its pages one last time, checking for those last lingering errors. This is what they call the 2nd pass. Maybe there are further ones, but not for me. I had to ask for special permission for this one after making changes on the 1st pass. I wanted to make sure every last comma I had added or correction I had made was executed. They were, for the most part. But I found a few that weren’t. They went into an email to the editorial assistant. After I had made it to the very end of the proofs and my email, I wrote the words, “Thanks for allowing me this one last look. Now I can let it go.”

Something about those words hit me suddenly, deeply. I actually began to cry, sob really, and I didn’t stop for a few minutes. I should have been elated. It’s done! I can move on with my life. But I was feeling something else entirely. The final pages are about Woolson’s death, so I had looked over the picture of her grave, re-read the passage about her death, including the speculation about whether she jumped or fell from her window, as well as the reference to the death mask that those handling her body had made—and her sister later destroyed. Typing those final words about letting the book go felt like I was letting Constance go, laying her to rest, once and for all.

Bringing this book into being has generated such a mix of emotions within me not unlike the feelings I had before my daughter was born. I remember talking to my mom on the phone the day we found out that little thing growing inside of me was going to be a girl. I just started crying, not because I was sad but because I was just so full of feelings I didn’t know where to begin.

A couple of months ago my mom called my publication date my due date. I laughed. I didn’t realize then how accurate her metaphor was until I started having dreams, just like when I was pregnant. In those first dreams, I had been anxious about what was growing inside of me. Would it have all of its limbs, would it be a monster, would it even survive? The new dreams indicated I was just as anxious about what my book would look like. Would it be pretty? Would it be something I was proud of? I now know it will be. I’ve seen it in its virtual form and have fallen in love with it. When my daughter was born, the first thing I said was, “She’s perfect.” Now, with those last few changes, hopefully my book will be too.  If not, then pretty close.

I wonder, though, if I will have the same euphoria after the book is published that I had when my daughter was born. Maybe briefly, but there are some very big differences between birthing a baby and birthing a book. After a baby is born, a new life has begun, and there is so much nurturing and growing to come. The letting go is hard, but it happens in stages over the next 18+ years. A book, on the other hand, is born full-grown and ready to head out into the world. This thing I have nurtured into being will no longer be mine. I have to let it go.

There is one important consolation, however. I have to remind myself that letting Constance go will also mean sharing her with the world. What a wonderful feeling that will be!

10 Comments

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  1. Sending a long distance hug along with deep appreciation for all of your efforts on behalf of Constance Fenimore Woolson. Your dedication to bringing her life and work to the fore and ensuring that it regains its rightful place in the canon is, well, humbling. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Anne.

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful description of your experience as a biographer. What a moment this is for you. And for Constance!

  3. Anne, what a beautiful, deeply personal, time in your life you are sharing with us. Thank you for that. I have to believe that you are sharing the kind of feelings that Connie did as well as each of her books was “birthed,” and thankfully your family and future projects will likely keep you from the kind of doldrums that she experienced. Together with Sharon’s compilation, you have given Connie’s memory the best gift ever of having a chance for a broad-based renaissance of interest in her work. Hugs and champagne and hats off to you, Joan

    1. Thanks, Joan, for these heartfelt words. I’ve heard that the best remedy for the doldrums after writing a book is to start your next one. That’s what I’m doing today! Another journey begins.

  4. This is beautiful, Anne. I am walking this path with you and feeling those tears, mingled with joy and relief. I went through my second pages yesterday. I am so ready to let go, let this book be a part of the world. Here’s to our due dates!!

  5. Maybe the right comparison is not childbirth but letting a child go out into the world as a young adult? Seems like there’s still **loads** of work **daily** to do after childbirth, but not so much for a book that’s between covers! If you’re lucky, a little free media or a book tour. (Most of us DIY on the book promotion end, but it’s still WAY less work than a human infant.)

    Congratulations on finishing the book.

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