This writer takes “kill your darlings” seriously.

After Americans united for the collective experience of watching “Tiger King,” we all  retreated to our own private means of surviving everything 2020 kept (and keeps) throwing at us.

My coping mechanism has been binge-watching “Kitchen Nightmares” and more recently “Hell’s Kitchen” with world-renowned chef and restauranteur Gordon Ramsay

I love Gordon Ramsay, and I am also terrified of him. For some strange reason, watching him scream at people over scallops, risotto, and raw chicken is so comforting and enjoyable in these dystopian times. 

He also is great at teaching and explaining simple cooking techniques to everyday people who just want to make nice food in their homes. Even if you aren’t creating Michelin star meals in your home, a good knowledge of basics can help you create tasty, enjoyable meals and make cooking more fun and satisfying. As a martial artist, I can appreciate someone who respects and continues to rely on foundational skills and knowledge. The first time I diced an onion the way Ramsay explained in a short YouTube video, I was overjoyed. (And didn’t cry from the onion–it worked!) 

Something I truly admire about Gordon Ramsay is his discipline and expectation of excellence. Whether the drama in “Hell’s Kitchen” is fan service or the realism of a kitchen brigade, why wouldn’t he demand excellence? We want our food to be nourishing, safe, and especially if we’re paying for it, pleasurable and high quality. 

That’s how I found myself lately approaching my memoir, which is going through the many stages of becoming a published book. 

The manuscript in its raw form has been through several edits, but that was far from the finished product. Last month, I received my “pages,” which was a PDF of the book layout in…well…book form—font, page numbering, sizing, funny little squiggles to mark the ends of sections, and some fabulous section illustrations I was completely delighted and surprised by, and my author photo and bio at the end. 

I was so excited, and it was so surreal to see something I’d been working on and picking away at for five years go from a Word document to an honest-to-God book….and those stars in my eyes caused me to rush through the first review and give my approval with only one or two corrections. 

Rookie mistake.

Thankfully, my editor has quite a bit of experience, and she kindly suggested I go through it more slowly and read it aloud. That was eye-opening. It was like reading an entirely different book, but I was still tentative about sending what I thought were too many changes. (Rookie that I am, I was under the impression that once the proofed copy was turned in, there was nothing more I could do. I learned from my editor that sending back 8-10 pages worth of changes is normal and expected.)

As I learned from Gordon Ramsay, a good chef tastes what they’re cooking to make sure it’s right and what they want to send for their customers. They don’t send out food blindly and assume it’s fine. Reading my book aloud was the first time I’d really “tasted” my work. I stopped skimming over it with the long-running transcript that was floating around in my head and was able to see it more objectively.

But I still rushed because I got caught up this time in the excitement of the reading-out-loud editing trick. I was going at a punishing rate that week, cramming in my review among doing a thorough house cleaning, my full-time job, and my taekwondo practice. My editor advised me to leave it alone for a little while and come back to it again.

And then it finally clicked. What I was missing was discipline, quality control, and a demand for excellence. My scallops were undercooked. My beef Wellington was overcooked. My chicken was still pink in the center. Frankly, that third edit was crap, and that’s not on anyone in the publishing house; that’s on me. I cooked it. I sent it out. I got so caught up in the excitement of seeing my book as a book that I rushed through the review process and actually slowed it down and created more work for everyone. 

As much as I wanted to move on with the publishing process, I had to send the book back for a re-fire. Hell, I needed to tweak the recipe itself. My customers deserve better. As an upcoming author who is hanging my reputation and credibility on this “signature dish,” I deserve better too. 

I once read that discipline is a “clear intention and commitment to go back to something over and over without giving up.” Martial arts is mired in discipline, repetition, and the demand for excellence. Why should I not use this same approach to my book, which, like a fine dining dish, I hope people will (1) be willing to pay to experience and (2) will thoroughly enjoy and feel the lasting “nourishment” and satisfaction that comes from reading a good book. 

I read through it again silently, at first hoping to only pick up on a few things, but my inner Gordon started to whisper in my ear: this writing sounds amateur; that phrase is awkward; the rhythm and cadence is off; there’s both inconsistency and needless repetition; this doesn’t serve the story and message. I slowed down, and after a silent read-through, I did another out-loud read-through to both cross-check my edits and look for more areas to tweak. Although I was starting to see it objectively before, this time, finally, I could see it as something I was willing and proud to let go into the world to be consumed by many. 

I ended up with eight pages of corrections. At first I felt hesitant, but I actually began to enjoy the improvement process. I wasn’t so much worried about it being “perfect” as I was it being high quality. I was demanding excellence from myself. 

As of today, I have my new “pages” with said eight pages of corrections made. With my editor and designer’s blessings, I’m letting it “rest” before I slice into it again. I want to review the (hopefully) final product with a fresh mind and an eye for excellence. And I’m going to taste my work, be willing to make necessary changes, and make sure it’s cooked properly. (And now I’m done with the cooking metaphors.) 

Sometimes we have to work quickly and/or under a lot of pressure, whether it’s at work, on the mat with a sparring partner, or in our creative endeavors. Staying calm, focused, and aware of the big picture (and with the ability to face and mitigate our inevitable anxieties and hang-ups) can help us accomplish something we’re proud of and eager to share with the world. 

Stay tuned for my upcoming book– “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!

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