Top five things I learned putting Chasing Misery together…


Top 5 or 10 lists are all the rage, right? Well, this weekend I flew to London where I got to see a copy of CM for the first time. (Didn’t trust that the Pakistani Post would get it to me in a timely fashion!) And as I sat on the couch and held it I just kept thinking…”OMG! This is an actual thing. It exists. It’s a book. It feels like a book. The weight of it is just right. It looks like it’s supposed to look.” It could have been the jetlag but I suppose my surprise and disbelief that an actual copy would be in my hands is related to what I learned from putting it together. So, here are the top five things I learned…

5. Done is better than perfect:

There is this saying that great artists always leave an intentional flaw in their work so they, and their audience, will remember that God alone is perfect. Well, I’d like to say that’s what I did…but no. CM is flawed and imperfect wholly because there were typos I failed to catch. Yes, I picked up the book for the first time and flipped it open to Roberta’s wonderful essay and, SLAP, there it is: TYPO RIGHT IN THE HEADER! (Sorry, Roberta! And we’re fixing it for all future editions as we speak!!) But, at some point in January this year, a thought crossed my mind. ‘Just get it done. It will never be perfect but it needs to be done.’ And that is what we aimed for. So, is the book flawed? Absolutely. Aren’t we all? But it is better than perfect because it is done.

4.  Editing is the most quietly heroic profession on earth:

Seriously. Being a writer does not make you an editor. And if you are a writer and you have a good editor, whether professional or not, then you should send them a bunch of flowers or bottle of wine. I mean….RIGHT NOW! Having someone who is willing to read your work and critically examine it for errors, and typos, and flow is amazing. You might not always agree with them but they are worth their weight in gold. Cause, here’s a secret for you…few of us are really good writers. Most of us are mediocre writers who, with someone’s help, and polishing can create something that shines, that’s worth someone else reading. If you’ve found that person. Never. Let. Them. Go.

3. People want to help you:

I don’t know about you but I often find it hard to believe that people are waiting around to be good, to do stuff to help me, to give assistance without expecting anything in return. I find that very hard to believe mostly because I want to do everything. And I want to do it myself (that way I can be assured that it will be PERFECT!) But it rarely is and, with that attitude, so much doesn’t happen because I can’t do everything myself. I need other people. And those other people aren’t going to screw everything up. They might do it differently but they will do it well. And well is better than perfect too.

2. Your story is important to someone else:

One of the hardest parts about editing CM was that I could, and still cannot, read several of the essays without bursting into tears. Miranda Gaanderse’s essay, for example. I cannot read about the wedding napkins in the refugee camp without tearing up. And I have read that essay at least 50 times. That means that it resonates with me and that somewhere in my brain or heart there is a little release and relief that… “Yes! Someone else felt the same way I did. Someone else knows what it’s like.” Graham Greene once wrote, “Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.” Reading and writing to know that we’re not alone is a powerful reason to do so.

And the number one thing I learned by putting CM together was:

1. Too often fear rules our lives:

I cannot count the number of thoughts I had where I told myself that this was a bad idea; that it was presumptuous to think that I could create something that anyone would be interested in reading. That it would be panned and criticised the moment it was published. That it was unnecessary and silly. That it was a bunch of navel-gazing aid workers. That is was the wrong book…too long, too short, wrong essays, wrong pictures, wrong title. The litany of fearful, self-critical thoughts goes on. And I realised how often we self-edit ourselves and our creativity and our feelings (especially women!) into inaction. How often we don’t do something because we’re afraid that someone, somewhere out there might be critical of it. But, another quote by Jorge Luis Borge that I recently read captures why I feel CM is important because it is our duty – not just our privilege – to be able to create. He says, “The task of art is to transform what is continuously happening to us, to transform all these things into symbols, into music, into something which can last in man’s memory. That is our duty. If we don’t fulfil it, we feel unhappy.”