But quite a few chapters arrived from the editor with a more harrowing commentary. This reads like a Wikipedia article. This feels like a listicle. I gave up editing at this point because this needs rethinking. This is in worse shape than I remembered.
Those notes feel much tougher. It’s not just that they indicate more work: reassembling, rewriting, cutting. It’s not just that the amount of feedback is surprising. (After all, some people read those chapters already, and didn’t complain. After all, people liked my Medium posts without any editing help. After all, I embarked on this only after believing I could handle it.)
How personal it all feels is the biggest surprise. Sometimes, I read my editor’s word choices and I nod vigorously. The other times I want to shout “Do you even get this book?” while I slam F3 so hard I’m worried about my expensive switch underneath.
“Let’s cut this section,” he says in a comment, and I remove it with pleasure. Next chapter. “Let’s cut this section,” he says, and in my head the first response that arrives is “How about I cut you.”
There initially seems to be no rhyme or reason to my reactions. But it’s through this process I learn what of my writing means most to me, and what are my biggest insecurities. There were chapters where I had more Literary Aspirations, and them coming back crossed out hurts. I am prone to exaggeration and I abuse italics. I find out that I put “a bit” on every fourth page, and that reminds me how I’ve struggled with confidence my entire life. My father was a vulgar person – he liked Larry for a reason – and it’s unpleasant to see a few of my sentences return with notes reminding me that apples don’t fall far from trees.
And some of this harkens back to one of the biggest worries: that I haven’t mastered this strange, alien language well enough to write a book. The tenses and subjunctives can be tricky. I am learning that I’ve been using the word “mentioned” wrong all these years. Polish doesn’t have articles, and despite decades of learning, I am still getting a lot of them wrong.
I sometimes say I recommend learning a second language because doing so unlocks something magical: understanding that your language is just a language,
a construct with its wonders, messes, and flaws. After a second language, it’s easier to imagine a third, fourth, and fifth one. I still am so proud that I know two languages well enough that I can attempt translating a short story by my favourite writer
I know all of this. And yet, sometimes I so miss writing in Polish, from before I knew any other languages and before I understood Polish is an in-betweener
. Then, I could express myself without all of these extra layers and without ever reaching for a dictionary. Now, once in a while, my editor flagging something trivial reminds me of something much deeper, still unresolved, and something that I worry I will never fully figure out: I am not from here.
In that moment, it’s not a great feeling.