When I finish writing a book, that is. Well, not so much weeping anymore. I cried when I finished the first two novels (The Wyckham House – as yet unreleased – and Office Politics).
I wrote Office Politics right on the heels of finishing The Wyckham House; I’d read that you should put your first manuscript in a drawer and take it out to edit only when you have fresh eyes, like, say, in 10 or 15 years.
The third book (The Secret Dreams of Sarah-Jane Quinn) wasn’t started for several months. On the heels of completing Office Politics, my daughter’s high school boyfriend fell from the understructure of a bridge and was killed on impact. We’d known this boy since he was five years old. The words dried up, because words come from my heart, and my heart was ripped to shreds. There was no lifeblood left; it all flowed out with my tears. Sarah-Jane wasn’t begun for four months, and when I finally started writing again, the words came haltingly, slowly, agonizingly.
So what does it feel like to finish a book? That’s really the point of this blog post. Those who have already know, although it’s different for every writer. This is how it is for me.
There is relief. Finally, finally, this story is out on paper. No more waking in the middle of the night with prose or dialogue running through my head. No more waking in the middle of the night, worrying about how to segue into a new scene. No more waking in the middle of the night with a “DAMN! THAT’S A HELLUVA’N IDEA!” I’ve seen the story through to the end, and it’s been an adventure, but now I’m glad to let go of its hand and relax.
There is sorrow. My characters are drawn from loved ones and from myself, little bits and pieces spliced together and given extensive plastic surgery so they aren’t Frankenstein monsters. I breathe emotion into them, assign them goals and triumphs and heartaches, a crazy-quilt of experience that gives them life. They are part of me, the children of my imagination, the focus of my dreams and attention and nurturing, and when, at last, their story is told, I feel as though I’ve lost more than just treasured friends, but part of my very heart.
There is excitement. I have a OneNote notebook literally bursting with story ideas and plans, and the lure of a shiny new project is exciting and rejuvenating. My hands itch to jump into a new story, to piece together new characters like mysterious puzzles, to stitch together another crazy quilt of life experiences that will plunge my new friends into the depths of despair and raise them to new heights of euphoria and joy.
Paul Valery, French critic and poet, said “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” The same is true with a story. I fiddle with this, adjust that, add more, delete passages, until my beta readers scream for mercy and my editor threatens to club me into oblivion. Finally I let it go, release it into the world as is, and bite my fingernails, hoping that you, my readers, don’t see those spotty areas that need a little scrub-and-shine.
So why am I writing this post? Yes, you guessed it, because I’ve finished a novel. This one hasn’t been with me nearly as long as The Wyckham House (the idea of which was conceived in 1982, was abandoned several times and finally stuffed into a drawer for ten years, only to be taken out and completed in 7 months in 2007). I started this novel in 1995, and it, too, went into a drawer with The Wyckham House until my kids were older and laptops were cheaper and I could write without having to be tethered to a desktop computer in another room. It’s been pushed aside in favor of finishing Wyckham, Office Politics, Sarah-Jane Quinn, and my novella Malakh. It’s been restructured, replotted, and rewritten. And now, to my sorrow and excitement, it is finished.
So yes, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and some relaxing. I’m off to the lake, ignoring the new worlds and new friends and new words for a little while.
Only for a little while.