On Friday morning one of my extraverted students told me I was cranky, and that I had been cranky for a couple of weeks.
She was right, and it stopped me in my tracks because it wasn’t about the kids at all. I was cranky because I don’t have enough time in a 45 minute class period to accomplish what I want to accomplish. I was cranky because we lose so much class time to things like assemblies, activity periods, and formal testing (four class periods last week, and two more to go). Activity periods happen occasionally in our school; we take the two periods after lunch and cancel classes in order to provide students with fun, team-building, social activities. While I know that our activity periods are good for middle school social development and student morale, they do very little for my own, and so I was cranky about it. We also had a snow day last week, and that added to my collection of complaints.
But those are not good enough reasons to be ornery with the kids – I love them! I think I’ve also been crabby because I’ve wanted my book to be sent off, but no matter how much time I spend on it, it’s never enough, and it’s never done; that’s certainly no reason to be irritable at school. I apologized to my student, thanked her for keeping me in line, and tried to smile more as the day went along.
I had no particular plans for the long Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, except for doing some grocery shopping, so when I woke up on Saturday morning I decided to see if I could get enough of the book finished that I could send off a packet to the publishers.
I was energized to get right to it. During the last week, I had just finished writing up the Poetry chapter and thought it might be a quick task.
Then the phone rang; it was Jessica, my former student and friend, recently home from Afghanistan. We went out for a great lunch, and it was wonderful to catch up and hear about her adventures. It was an excellent interruption.
Back to work. I decided I need to add statistical data to the book, if I could find it. I had been looking for some specific data off and on for a couple of years, but the state’s department of education website is not easy to navigate. Somehow, though, this time I located exactly what I needed – I was so excited! I copied the numbers into Excel, and made four charts showing how my specific students performed on their Reading and Writing NECAP tests. (NECAP is our annual testing for No Child Left Behind.) It was worth the work, even when I realized I was still up at 2:00 a.m.
When I woke up late on Sunday morning I was still groggy, and decided that I’d go grocery shopping to give my brain a break. Then back to work I went, but I was tired and spent only a few hours writing the section to include the new data.
On Monday I was grateful for the extra day off and I went right to work: to revise, revise, revise. I can hardly read a paragraph without finding a way to improve it; it’s way beyond reasonable! But I got to a point where I was nearing the end; I could actually put all the pieces together and have a finished whole. Next came several hours of making sure that the page numbers lined up with the table of contents, and looking for the pieces for the appendix, and checking citations in the reference sources. I still needed to revise the cover letter and make sure my resume was up to date. Then I realized that one chapter was not double spaced, so I had to re-print it, which of course meant I had to revise the table of contents again. Was I really getting near to the end? And then Monday was gone. I went to bed thinking it would be good to go away from it. I would have liked to read the paper copy in the morning just to make sure it was right, but the weekend was over. And an amazing thing happened the next morning: a snow day! No school! I was up early, and with coffee mug in hand, I sat down to give the manuscript one last reading.
More revising. The section on personality types needed much updating – how did I miss that? But several hours of re-organizing and then re-organizing some more, my brain is finally satisfied: it IS ready for packaging. It is not totally finished; it needs one more chapter, and I didn’t include all the appendices. But it is sufficiently complete to send it off; thankfully the publisher will accept partial manuscripts.
Bottom line: I have enormously deeper respect for all those authors who have gone before me. I’ve read many quotes about how hard writing is, and I always thought “yeah, it might be hard for you but I love it.” My new understanding, though, is that what makes it hard is how much time it takes to get the details right and convince my brain that I can’t make it better. But it’s ready. I will take it to the post office tomorrow, when the roads are clear. Then all I have to do is wait until the publisher sends me a reply. I know it might be rejected. But I promise not to be bad-tempered in school no matter what.