On Finishing

To Live a Creative Life, We Must Lose our Fear of Being Wrong.
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Everyone has a favourite part of writing. For some it’s the research and brainstorming, then they just suffer through getting the words on the page. For some it’s the editing, the chance to make things right. For me, it’s the actual writing. My Type A little heart loves seeing a word meter fill up. It adores the satisfaction of recording in my agenda how much I did that day, and seeing the numbers add up. It loves the feeling of flying when I’m in the groove, deep in the characters, as I write.

I’ve been doing this writing thing a while. I wrote my first trunk novel for Nanowrimo 2005. I immediately put it away and began writing a better version (not an edit, mind you, I didn’t start doing that until my fifth manuscript). I’ve completed drafts of 2 science fiction novels, 2 fantasy novels, and written (because they’ve been edited) 1 steampunk novel, 1 YA fantasy, 1 YA urban fantasy, 1 women’s fiction, 1 YA magical realism (which got me my first agent and sold to Penguin), 1 literary magical realism (which got me my second agent), and over the weekend, my first YA contemporary with LGBT issues.

The last book I finished was at the end of 2012. That’s a long time to go without finishing anything. But I was in edits with Penguin and then after my contract got cancelled, I was in a self-doubt phase, and then working at Samhain, I was too busy and writing wasn’t a priority. But I had an idea spark that I couldn’t let go of. So I started writing. (To be fair, I have half a historical novel completed, and plan to finish it next, but I had to stop for more research and got hit by the LGBT YA idea in the meantime.)

I blew through the beginning of this book and then I got my concussion and couldn’t write for months. When I came back to the book it felt stale, off. I ended up revising my outline and when it clicked, I was back in the saddle. I wrote almost 17,000 words last week to finish. I had been unsure if I even could. The doubt didn’t last long, though, because I was determined. This book needed to be written; there are few YA’s featuring trans characters around. (That’s one of the reasons I think writers need to write stories they want to read, that they believe in, instead of say, writing to the market. You’re more likely to stick with it through stumbling blocks.)

How does it feel to finish a book? This is what you never think about. You’re chugging so hard on this thing, so intensely, and then suddenly, you’re not. It’s over. Every time I finish a book, I feel profound relief that I managed to, a very brief sense of elation that I did it, and mostly bemusing confusion. What am I supposed to be doing now? What do I do with my time? I guess I could send those emails to friends I’d been putting off so I could write? Hell, I don’t know, where is my kitten? No one talks about the post-book fog. Sometimes it’s a post-book crash, hard and painful. You know when you finish reading a really good book you’re invested in? How you feel a certain sense of loss when you end it? Writers feel that too. We live and breathe these characters; we’re connected in a way readers aren’t. Imagine how it feels to suddenly realize you don’t need to visit these friends anymore.

To be fair, as someone who has done this enough times, one reason the elation doesn’t last is because I recognize that now the real work begins, but there is a difference in mindset between revision and writing. For me, the former is work. The latter is not (usually). The first gives me the same high as reading a good book. So much awe and inspiration and joy. The latter is more ponderous, more delicate. It doesn’t help that when doing a first-draft I go into a “FINISH BOOK” mode where I eat a bunch of junk food and forget to do even basic things like shower. There’s this momentum and suddenly it just–stops. Revision doesn’t have that problem because I’m rarely going fast enough for the stop to be sudden.

Of course, the answer to this is to start work on the next thing while my CP’s and betas go over the manuscript. I’ll give it a polish before it goes to my agent, of course, but the remnants of momentum are still there, and they’ll propel me to the next project. I just wanted to explain the post-book crash because usually everyone is so excited– YOU DID IT! YOU DID IT!–and it’s hard to explain how I can not share quite so much enthusiasm.

 

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  1. Reading this gave me so much joy. Congratulations again on finishing! Hearing about all your trunk novels makes me feel inspired.

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