I walked into Panera Bread yesterday morning at 8am. I already had two hours of page-proof revision under my belt and I needed to get out of the house before the workers came to hang my interior doors.

I pointed to the pastry case as I ordered coffee. "What's the worst thing for me in there?"

"Oh, you want these little puffy things," Charise behind the counter told me. "They're worse than a Big Mac!"

"Load me up," I said. I got a puffy thing with spinach, artichokes, and cheese tucked inside.

I snagged my favorite booth -- it's in the back corner next to the bathrooms. It's out of the way and it's got a dedicated electrical outlet for my laptop. Score. I opened my satchel and pulled out the 420 typeset pages of Countdown, a blue fine-point Pilot pen, three pieces of Ghirardelli's chocolate, and my cell phone. I peeled off my heavy winter coat, my shawl, my scarf, and even my sweater -- it was hot inside.

The music at Panera is too loud. The customers have to talk even louder in order to be heard over the music. They all have problems. They are all fascinating. But I can't stay and listen. My job is to slip beneath the surface of all that noise and enter the world of my story. I'm practiced at this, and I know how to do it. This is a warrior day.

I take short breaks for coffee, water, bathroom, a salad at lunch. I make flight reservations for a coming trip. I check email. I check in with my editor. But mostly I stay with my story until 8pm that night. Twelve hours at Panera (this is an essay for another time), lost in another world.

I stop for Thai food on the way home and eat it in the pink chair while I catch up on mail and my husband. Then I turn back to my story at 10pm, ready for another push. I don't leave the pink chair until 6:38am, when I finish the 25-page document I have created for my editor, a page-by-page accounting of every line in the book.

That document looks something like this (skip or skim at will):
line 10: comma after old.
line 15: spell out 47
line 22: delete comma after soles
line 29: add “s” to triangle and delete swords

p. 25
line 3: delete entire line
line 4: delete “screaming.” delete “steps on” and substitute “trips over”
line 5: delete “reach out and pick” and substitute “snatch”
line 7: delete “who hear him”
line 18: insert “school” between “brick” and “wall” and delete “of the school”
line 26: insert period after weedy, delete the following “and” and initial cap the next word “It” in order to make two sentences here.
line 27: lower case the B in DuBose. The name is spelled differently throughout. Let’s stick with Dubose as the correct spelling of this name.

line 1: insert and after napkins,
line 10: check permissions for fair use
line 15: delete comma after sings it

line 15: make this paragraph a quote, so insert “I whisper,” after the word knees, then begin quotes before Dear and end quotes after understand on line 20
line 20: end quotes after understand. Also, no itals in lines 15-20
line 21: period after last word (letter)
line 22: delete “to Chairman Khrushchev.”

All day, all night! This is what I did.

If you actually read all that, you're as big a word-geek as I am. I love this part. I love the tweaks, snips, cuts, and the art of sculpting a story after the structure is sturdy and known. I love looking for rhythm and clarity and (especially at this point) the poetry within the prose. I love stitching the seams until they are seamless. I love working with good proofreaders and copy editors.

I love my job.

And we are on deadline. I can feel it -- the adrenaline that careens, slides, soars, pivots and shoots us into the pocket -- finished! -- screaming "Wahooo! What a ride!"

Or maybe it kills us. Sometimes it feels like it might. At 6am this morning, having finally finished reading, marking, and detailing every one of those 420 pages, I sent my editor the 25-page map to the whole shebang. The subject line of my email: Bataan Death March.

Bwaahahahahaha. Go to bed, Debbie.

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