Meringues as Metaphors

A few summers ago, cutie and I were cat-sitting for friends, friends who a) had a much bigger place and b) encouraged us to have people over. So we decided to have a dessert buffet. We were going to make a bunch of meringues and cut up fruit and all sorts of things and basically people could assemble their own pavlovas. The day started gloomy but we put on the radio and got to work.

The meringues didn’t set. Like, the eggs didn’t fluff and hold peaks.

After much frustration, we threw out the batch and started again.

The second batch didn’t set either. No amount of whipping could get it to stop being glop and start forming soft peaks.

Undaunted (well, actually, fairly daunted and also getting angrier by the moment) we bought MORE EGG WHITES and made ANOTHER batch.

Nothing.

Our friends were due to start arriving and everything else was done but we had NO MERINGUES and we were all out off eggs (and bubblegum, and asses to kick). Now in a HULK RAGE we threw the gloop out and went down to the grocery store and bought tiny sponge cakes to use for the buffet instead (and bought our gluten-free friend his own bar of chocolate, as I recall).

The party gets started and someone asks what happened with the meringues and I explained how even though we followed the recipe, nothing worked. And someone asked if we’d put in cream of tartar. “No, it was a recipe without it and anyway we didn’t want to buy a whole bottle.” (because it wasn’t our kitchen, remember.) And then someone else said: “Well, that’s why it didn’t work. It’s raining out. You can’t set meringues on humid days without cream of tartar,” and then they went back to enjoying their dessert and I sat there feeling like a moron and a failure. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know; my recipe at home never used cream of tartar and it worked just fine–but then I had never tried making meringues on a rainy day before.


Last week I was pretty excited to put my editing lessons into practice. I spent a day going through a print-out of Northern Portents and slashing. I wanted to go from 14,000 words (ish) to under 10,000–which is what my editor had recommended to make it easier to sell. Considering how easily the slashing was going, I felt pretty confident. But when I made the changes in the word doc, I only lost 1,500 words.

Well. Obviously there’s more work to do! No short-cuts this time, nope, just gotta roll up my sleeves and get ‘er done.

So I printed a clean version and I got a pink pen, and I shuffled the pages, and started at the words “the end” and worked backwards (my mum taught me that trick for proofreading–it keeps you focused on the actual lines of text instead of slipping into ‘reading mode’. Maybe it’s standard practice. I have no idea.) I went line by line and cut and rewrote and cut and rewrote. Took me two dedicated days. And then another day to type the changes back in. But it will be worth it! I thought. I probably like 2,500 words. I probably cut too much!

But as you will probably guess, the meringue didn’t set.

I stared at the document’s word count for a good long while, because it did not, absolutely not, seem right that for ALL THAT RED PEN I had only cut 500 words. I was still 1,500 away from my goal. After two days.

After shouting at the computer loud enough to startle cutie on the other side of the apartment, I had a good rage-cry, and then curled up and read because it was 10pm anyway and it was time to go to bed. Northern Portents is still at 12,000 words. I have no doubt that I will tell this story to someone and they’ll go: “Oh. Did you do ‘X’?” and I will say that no, I didn’t know X was a thing and then they’ll continue chewing, nodding as if to say, “well, there’s your answer.” But that hasn’t happened yet and in the meantime I am still frustrated and angry and not sure what I’m doing wrong or how to do it better. I like Northern Portents. I liked it before I started giving it to beta-readers, before I did any substantial editing at all. Every round of feedback, including the professional, has been a resounding meh, usually phrased along the lines of ‘it’s good, it’s just…<shrug>” which is an awful lot like the submission responses I’m getting, which doesn’t make it any easier. I try my hardest not to take any responses personally, good or bad, just like I did with my design work, but I’m only human.

Someone once said that getting published was like trying to hit a dartboard in a dark room and I’m super feeling that today. I wish I had a tidy ending, but I don’t. I don’t know what the lesson is yet.

Maybe learning X will solve that too.

 

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