I went full-speed ahead with a yes when my sister asked me to look at her book-in-progress. Or, to say it more accurately, we did not ourselves settle on a specific word to describe what I would be doing. I figured I’d do what I usually do in these situations, some mix of proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and maybe rewriting a thing here or two (though at this stage, it was pointless, since she’ll be doing a lot of rewriting herself). It’s what I often do when I look at something for someone, depending on my relationship with the person, when we haven’t agreed upon exactly what I’m doing. Since it was my sister, I thought I’d try to just be as helpful as I could be.
So, without a definite mandate, I jumped into the document. I changed spelling errors. Ignored most of the things I felt might be grammatical problems because: 1) I’m not an English teacher and; 2) I don’t want to intrude too much on her voice. She has a strong, authoritative voice. She’s not pulling punches. I liked that. Besides, issues like that, she could fix herself once she read it out loud. They can be dealt with in a later draft.
She repeated herself in some areas and I pointed those out. Some things, I felt she hadn’t emphasized enough and could benefit the story. Some, I thought she’d lingered on or didn’t need. I told her those.
I finished in a couple of hours and I texted her.
Then, I got nervous.
Some of the possible usual worries, some not. Concern over whether I might have been too harsh. Should I have gone more general in my reading and not been as thorough? Was my own reading of it BS? I did my best to look at her and the people she discusses in the story as characters –not as people I know and have definite feelings about– and try to not impose my own perceptions or desires into her story.
That was the hardest.
For instance, I know my father, but not in the way she did. She grew up with him, in his house. I only spent one summer with her and my other sister and her mother, and while I remember a great deal of the events, I was just five. I probably misunderstood a bunch of things I did see, forget about the things I could have missed because I was five. She’s already told me about a lot that went down.
The rest of my time while my father was alive, I talked to him on the phone or saw him during his trips back home to Baltimore. Or, as technology progressed, via webcam whenever he felt like being bothered with firing up his computer (I wish he’d gotten himself an iPad before he passed; I tried).
I wanted to know more about the father who she said encouraged her to follow her passions. I never felt at ease having that conversation with him. We talked about what I was going to do, more than what I wanted to do. She says she received so many lessons and so much wisdom from him. I want to know what he told her. Life, being the way it was, he could have only told me so much.
I wanted to know more about her friends I only saw in passing as a kid. I remember them only as much as I remember the sherbet and the cake we ate on my birthday.
I wanted to know the adventures she went on before and after helping to watch after her younger siblings that summer in Diamond Bar. Some of these events are key in my own life. I’m writing about some of them.
The hope is that as much as I wanted to know more as myself, if she ends up following any of my suggestions, her eventual readers will benefit from knowing those things. That I, as a reader of a story with characters and events, have given suggestions that serve the story. More than I might ever serve myself and my curiosities. Or even my sister, for that matter. The story is bigger than the teller. Even in my own work. Especially in my own work. Even in what you’re reading right now.
According to Google Drive, by the time I’m finishing writing this post, she’s read at least some of the comments. Who knows if the suggestions will ever make it into the final product? If they’re helpful in making the story more successful, I hope they do. Otherwise, she should pitch them into traffic.
I am looking forward to the final product. And if there’s any value for her in what I’ve suggested and wants me to read it, the next draft.
Also published on Medium.