Why I got an editorial mark tattooed on my arm

A week before moving out of New York I got a tattoo on my left arm. Most people don’t notice it, but those who do ask me what it means. The short answer is: it’s an editorial symbol that means to come. It’s on my left arm because I’m left-handed, and every single time I pick up a pen to write, I am forced to look at it and remember the long answer.

On the day I got the tattoo, I went to my favorite park and wrote what it meant to me. It’s the last thing I wrote without a tattoo looking back at me. Here’s the long answer:

TK is an editorial symbol that means ‘to come.’ Why TK and not TC? Editorial standards try to keep editorial marks as different from publishable copy as possible to prevent the symbol from blending in and sneaking into the published version. TK stands out. TC…might be a real thing?

I learned about TK in my senior year of college. I was working as an editorial assistant at the university’s press. My boss explained the mark to me and said it was TK not TC “because Latin.” It was years before I looked it up and discovered for myself that it is, in fact, not.

TK is a difficult concept to explain to people. It’s a tool to mark a place in writing where there is information to be filled in. In my job as a magazine editor, I might write “Sally was born on TKdate in TKhometown.” And then proceed to draft the rest of the story.

When I was writing my first book (the “shoved in a file cabinet thank god no one will ever see this” book⁠—no really THANK GOD) I didn’t know how to begin or end or make up the middle or basically do any of the things you have to do to write a book. I wrote in fits and stutters, terrified i was going to be the kind of person who wasted their life talking about wanting to write a book and then never actually doing it.

So. I TK’ed the hell out of that thing. And not just birthdates and hometowns. A typical sample chapter would have included such gems as “TK joke”, “TK CLIMACTIC SOMETHING OR OTHER”, “TK this making sense,” and, my all time favorite, “TK better.”

But here’s the thing: I finished that book. And then another. And another. When I wrote my first book under contract⁠—the first one i knew with absolute certainty would be read by other people⁠—I opened a blank document and the first thing i typed was “TK book.”

The point: I thought life was linear. I thought that before taking one step I had to be older and wealthier and done enough research to know every possible outcome of every possible step from that moment onward. I thought the people I admired the most must have bushwhacked a clear path for themselves.

But then TK. There was no path clearing. There has been no map. What there is instead is wandering, mazes, faceplants, wading through water that is as beautiful as it is impenetrable.

Was I going to stand still, statue my life until the path was clear and I’d plotted my way into the grave? No. TK the answer. TK the job, the confidence, the house, the talent, the certainty. When in doubt: TK and go on.

And then? Movement. I rest in the conviction that a TK frees me to move forward and circle back, to erase and italicize, to live a whole, three dimensional life. All that forge ahead, do not go gentle kind of stuff. And buried beneath all the what-ifs and rejection and fear remains a simple truth about writing and life. A truth I have chosen to believe in enough to let it bleed into my skin:

The best is still TK.

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