When it’s good, when it’s right–how do you know? Beyond the more intricate weavings of plot, how do you know that a paragraph, a sentence, a word, a whiff is the best it can be?

That’s the fun and the anguish of it: Maybe you never do. In one of my earlier books, I was reworking so deeply into the galley stage that I was told I’d need either to stop or to give back a hunk of the advance. (I stopped.)

Sometimes the right combination of words, thoughts and feelings sounds like a tap on a crystal wine glass; a sweet, sustained, perfect sound. Sometimes those things resonate in my body like a perfect vocal harmony sung with a friend. Sometimes the small rightness is revealed only in the readback through the tape recorder. And sometimes, it’s because it makes me cry.

I never cry when things are bad–when a passage is hollow or an emotion is false; then I am merely miserable until I can tell myself that patience and persistence will make it right. But the tears…I may be on to something there.

I hit myself over the head with that realization last weekend. The tears came not from the fact that the subject of the chapter was sad, but rather from the fact that it sang to me. There were further dismantlings and rewritings to come, and probably will be yet. But that “gotcha” was a nice indication that I wasn’t totally lost in the weeds of my own making.

Like the reading aloud test, this is one you won’t want to try in public. And it takes a vulnerability that can open the door to scarier places. But try it. Once. Test yourself. And see whether tears have uses you never expected.

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