Tears in the Writer, Tears in the Reader

It has been 2 years this month since Piper’s Reach (an epistolary novel hand-written and posted in real time) was conceived, written, finished, and now, the end of the editing process.

And I am emotionally spent.

Here is the premise: 

In December 1992 Ella-Louise Wilson boarded the Greyhound Coach for Sydney leaving behind the small coastal town of Piper’s Reach and her best friend and soulmate, Jude Smith. After twenty years of silence, a letter arrives at Piper’s Reach reopening wounds that never really healed.

When the past reaches into the future, is it worth risking a second chance?

How We Edited Collaboratively Via Distance

Last night my collaborative writing partner, Jodi Cleghorn, and I sat down via Skype to put the final pages of our novel, Post Marked: Piper’s Reach through the edits.

As we live in different cities in Australia (I live in Sydney, Jodi lives in Brisbane) the process of editing involved reading through the document and making changes, and posting the main document to Dropbox for the other to work on. Track changes is an awesome function.

The novel was divided into 3 ‘seasons,’ natural climaxes in the story’s developing plot, each approximately one third of the novel’s length. At the end of editing each season we forwarded it on to our friend Toni, who gratefully offered to edit for us.

We then sat down via Skype and read each of the letters aloud to the other, taking on the persona of the character we wrote (I wrote the character of Jude, Jodi wrote Ella-Louise) while accepting or rejecting edits.

Editing is, by and large, a clinical process where as the writer, you are looking for inconsistencies, errors, character motivation and analysis. You are not looking to be engaged by the story although you are aware it’s there.

However, during our various editing sessions throughout the latter half of 2013 we found we became entangled in the story again, its emotional push and pull, often stopping after a letter to talk about it, or even pausing at the end of a paragraph mid-letter to comment on how we felt the characters were reacting, or our reaction to a particularly visceral and emotional paragraph.

Along the way we overcame our fear of reading aloud. By reading it aloud as we edited, we were coming to the story as writers, and as readers. There was laughter, titters, nervous giggles as we read certain parts, and there was uncomfortable silence while we read others when the tone of the letters was angry and aggressive. 

At the beginning of Season 2 there is a section of juicy, saucy letters  but we read through them with nary a titter or giggle or sense of awkwardness (there’s no way my Mum is reading what I wrote). What gutted, and surprised, us more was the letters that followed where the characters’ anger was evident and pronounced after we rearranged some paragraphs. There were moments of quietness as we contemplated the passion and aggression our characters had found in their words.

We posted hash tags via twitter during our Skype editing sessions. For example, there was a time back when we were editing Season 2 when the content of the letters was a little bit racy so we called it #cigarettesession. Which leads into last night’s final editing session and the accompanying hash tag.

Jodi put the call out early and I suggested #iamnotcrying. It was a little tongue in cheek as firstly it was the ending of the editing sessions, the ending of the novel (a grieving process in itself) and because we knew how the story finished.

Throughout the writing process Jodi was determined to make me cry as I had made her dissolve into tears on a number of occasions. She texted me one afternoon after a specific letter I wrote: “That was one f**king awesome letter. Have read it four times now and I cry and shake and the whole full body emotive experience.”

I can’t remember which letter it was now, but I loved the reaction. There had been moments when I *almost* cried, but had yet to succumb to full on tears. Even at the end of the writing process when I was reading the final letter, I did not cry, which upset and confused Jodi. 

Fortuitously we ended up writing the final letters across my dining room table during Easter 2013 after having spent the previous 16 months sending the letters via Australia Post. I was blindsided by the ending that I laughed, somewhat nervously. I couldn’t comprehend what Jodi had done; I hadn’t seen it coming. I was gobsmacked at how it ended (it would be another 3 months before our online readership experienced the emotional roller coaster). 

Admittedly, I approached each letter as if I was the character, not trying to predict the development of the plot. And in conjunction with the No Spoiler Policy (meaning we didn’t discuss potential plot ideas), neither of us knew how it would all end, nor where the plot would take us.

In the mean time, she’s at the other end of the table blubbering as she reads Jude’s last letter knowing what she has written and paired with what she was reading from Jude.

It took me a while to come to terms with how it all ended and its emotional impact on me. 

But last night was something different.

It had been almost 3 months since our last editing session (due to life’s constraints) and we were approaching the last 50 pages of our manuscript with a little mix of trepidation and hesitation. We knew, as writers, how our story ended; that wasn’t a problem. It was knowing we had to come to The End.

The hash tag #iamnotcrying was good to go and off we went.

And there were certainly tears.

Below is a couple of screen shots from my twitter feed (you will need to read the  feed from the bottom up). You can see I was beginning to lose it when I said there were 10 pages to go. The emotion was threatening to overflow and I could hear Jodi begin to lose it a little.

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I’ve included Jodi’s stream via my Connect screen. There’s a line in Jude’s last letter where he mentions David Bowie’s song, “Heroes,” and I knew that was going to be the line to make me lose it. Jodi referenced it below. 

In the lead up to the last letters, we could both feel the surge of sadness threaten to overwhelm. 

As I read Jude’s last letter it became harder and harder, and when I hit the Bowie line, the pauses between sentences became longer, the silence more weighty and the voice cracking. Even now it still has an impact just thinking about it.

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There were a few more letters to read, and during the very last one, read by Jodi, there was no clicking of the mouse as changes were accepted or rejected. It was simply read aloud.

And it was bloody hard to listen to. I can only imagine how hard it was for Jodi to read it. I was crying, Jodi was crying and when we reached The End, there was only silence save for the sniffling of noses and scrunching of tissues.

By way of conclusion, Jodi was triumphant in that she had made me cry. We were both mentally and emotionally spent; the investment in our characters over the past two years coming to fruition.

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The adage of “tears in the writer, tears in the reader” was true last night. As Jodi says below,  the last three letters were all choke and pause and the struggle to keep reading. It was a really humbling experience to experience the text as a reader. I commented below that the emotion was magnified when read aloud (maybe we’ll do an audio version of the book).

While we were editing, Toni our awesome editor chimed in.

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And speaking reactions, a friend of Jodi’s read the online version before we took it down for editing last July. When he met up with her at conference, he said, “I hate you.” It was done playfully and without malice but in response to his reaction to the end of the book. 

Read the texts referencing @_Lexifab

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You can read Jodi’s reflection on last night’s editing on her website 1000 Pieces of Blue Sky and follow her on twitter @JodiCleghorn

Jude and Ella-Louise had the lighthouse at The Point as the focal point for understanding their relationship. It served as invitation, warning, refuge, security. I feel like I am there, under the lighthouse, watching the light sweep out over the ocean, waiting for the return of our characters.

We can’t wait until we can get this story into the hands of readers because we think we have a powerful story.

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One response to “Tears in the Writer, Tears in the Reader

  1. Pingback: Reaching “The End” for The Second Time | Post Marked: Piper's Reach

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