Taking a Red Pen to Life


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

The directions from Zondervan are pretty simple.

“Please read through the proofs, marking any changes or corrections in red pen or red pencil.”

But every time I sit down to work on the 200-page galley proof for Evolving in Monkey Town, I suddenly think of something more important to do—like check my email or play guitar hero or finish off the rest of that ranch dip left over from Sunday night.

Galley proofs are an author’s last chance to make significant changes to a book, so I’m having some separation anxiety, knowing I’ve been given just a few more days of shaping and molding before sending my five-year-old “baby” out into the world.

The strange thing about editing a memoir is the fact that, in a sense, I’m editing my life. Part of me wants to take that red pen and mark out all the embarrassing stuff, circle all the good stuff, and add lengthy annotations in the margins about how I’ve thought more about this or changed my mind about that. Part of me wants to add a disclaimer to the front of the book and an apology at the end of it. Part of me wants to draw a big red ‘X’ across the whole thing and start all over again. 

But I don’t. Instead I focus on killing those passive verbs and catching those pesky typos.  The story remains the same because it’s true and because I think it’s helpful—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Finishing a memoir puts a very clear period at the end of this chapter of life. When I’m finished with these proofs, I get to put the past five years into an envelope, mail them to Michigan, and start on the next book. I guess I’m just a little nervous because I’m not sure how the next chapter will begin.

Questions for you:

1. If you were to write a memoir about the last five years of your life, what would the title of your book be? What stories would you tell? 

2. What do you envision for the next chapter of your life?

P.S. To learn more about my “dirty laundry,” check out my friend Wendy’s blog, where I’ve written a whole post about it.)

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