Tuesday, April 19, 2011


by Rachael Phillips

The first time I finished a major writing project, I expected my world to light up the minute I sent it off to the publisher. That glorious, long-awaited day, I would rise from my computer for the first time in weeks to replenish the empty fridge and launder 257 pairs of socks. Fresh from the triumph of completing a manuscript, I would even dare enter and clean my bathrooms. I would return to the world of human contact, and my temporary writer's psycho psyche would morph into normalcy.

Why I assumed that, I don't know, as I've never been normal. I did not anticipate the Post-project Crash that accompanied not only my initial publication, but every one since. I include below a few scenarios in hopes other authors will apply 24-hour sleep cures and appropriate megadoses of dark chocolate before serious problems arise. Because no matter how many times we edit our manuscripts, no matter how many former friends we rope into reviewing them, strange things happen upon submission. Once we press that send button, thoughts of possible errors wiggle and niggle into our consciousness like virulent tadpoles, including:

Formatting Errors. Did I space four lines between the title and first paragraph or five? And those scene dividers--what if the judge/agent/editor is allergic to asterisks? Authors debate whether they should re-check the manuscripts they sent to attain peace of mind, or whether they should remain ignorant forever. [Gasp!] What if I left an extra space at the end of the third to the last paragraph?

These may be painful, but can't compare with Comma Panic, a syndrome in which wild-eyed sufferers cling to their Chicago Manuals of Style like cats to a bedspread until they--the writers, not the cats--have documented the reason for each and every comma in their manuscripts. The discovery of even one comma misuse precipitates fresh panic that can only be soothed by starting the review process all over again, reciting comma rules aloud as penance.

Research Terrors also have been known to strike novelists without warning. Historical fiction writers are particularly susceptible, often scaring their spouses into spasms at 2:00 a.m. with screams of literary terror.

Spouse: What?! What is the matter with you?
Writer: [weeping, hiding face in hands] Lord, forgive me. I said Zelda "curled her bangs."
Spouse: Who's Zelda?
Writer: [ignoring spouse] Curled her bangs. No one called them bangs back in 1722. What will I do? What will the publisher do?
Spouse: [pressing six pillows over head] Call the hair police?
Writer: [gnawing knuckles] For something this bad, they might take me straight to the historic hairstyle firing squad. [pauses to mop tears] Ooooh, nooo. Did I call Percy's trousers pants?

Yes, my personal experience has taught me only prayer, time and cleaning bathrooms have effected a cure for these maladies. How about you? Any advice for the author who has just hit the send button?


  1. My worst mistake to date was an essay I turned in to my college professor. At that time, I was touched by Psalm 91 and I had printed it out to keep with me in my car. When the prof gave my essay back to me, I discovered I had accidently stapled the Psalm to the ssay. He put a giant question mark down the center of the page. I never bothered to explain, and hoped it was something he needed. :)

  2. Hey, Kenny,
    If that's the biggest mistake you've ever made, rejoice! I, on the other hand, misspelled the name of a co-author....

  3. Rachael, I always enjoy reading your posts.

    I recently sent a book proposal to a publisher who was also the author of a competing book. I even had his book on my list of competitors and somehow didn't make the connection. Ouch!

  4. Thanks, Kathryn. Ouch, indeed! I feel your pain. But think of all the things we did RIGHT :-)