aOne of my main concerns before submitting the book was that I would die in the hours leading up to the deadline, and all the work I would be doing would not be for nothing because the publisher would only have an outline and the completed book itself would remain on a password-protected hard drive and eventually be buried in a landfill.
I have always associated with handing a book and death because the two seemed to be connected on an underground and subconscious level. Finishing a big project is a form of death – something is over. But completion isn’t something you hear about often in all of the short courses, podcasts, MFA’s, articles and online books about the creative process.
It’s all about getting started, character development, writing routine, pitching to agents and marketing. But you are never told of the end, of the losses to the cells of the body and of the brain at work, and of the strange weeks after handing over a manuscript as you gradually attempt to return to the world, often with the awkward gait of a newborn foal, but whose back, neck, shoulders, and arms are to a pit-worker.
After I handed in my manuscript, the next twenty-four hours were charged. I left my phone at Southern Cross station and my laptop at a restaurant, and then once I got my phone back I lost it again. Two weeks later and I still feel like I’m in some kind of twilight zone, not fully immersed in the world.
So what happens when you finish the book?
Novelists are most likely to suffer from some form of depression – even sadness. They finished a book, yes, but the world they carried inside their heads, grows and takes shape like a sourdough starter, gets ready, and in doing so dies for them because it can no longer evolve. As the novel moves to the editing stage, and in the hands of others, the writer can surprise a strange frenzy. They don’t want to give up.
Read an interview with several great novelists who described their book as their child.
Martin Amis said, “A novelist does not have to love only his characters — which you do, without even thinking about them, just as you love your children.”
Truman Capote went further: “Finishing a book is just like taking a kid in the backyard and photographing it.”
For the memoirist, finishing has a different flavor. It is fraught with self-awareness. This is my life – how will it be received? Did you make a big mistake? Will my family talk to me again? Did I reveal secrets that would ruin my reputation – or even worse – have the reader bored? Who cares about my stupid life anyway? I know one memoirist so concerned about the content of her book that as soon as she pressed send the manuscript, she vomited projectiles all over her desk.
And for someone writing fiction—perhaps in a similar vein to finishing a PhD—they questioned their topic from every angle, and if they saw or heard about it again, they would scream. They dream of fire fueled by their reference books.
With the end, there is a dissolution of the dream state of creation – common to all writers, who come out of creative fugue only to feel the damage on their bodies and must face all the things they neglected in the dream (the husband who had the burden and the children that got old, and a pet that didn’t walk , an overgrown garden, a neglected workplace and resentful friends, their bodies – broken and unexercised, bent and aching).
And with all the bookAnd There is also the quadrature of the dream book with the book of reality.
There’s a part in the writing where you think you’re building some kind of utopia – no one has done that before, what you create is awesome. And so you go on, hitting your body like a jockey who goes straight into the final in the Melbourne Cup.
Then he enters. What was your only focus—the thing you sacrificed everything for—suddenly became an object of loathing or, as Zadie Smith put it, “like taking a tour of the dungeon you were once confined to.”
All of the book’s ideas are now thrown aside like a contaminated napkin after masturbating for four years. You can’t bear to look at her again. Friends who have received the manuscript and have notes but are showing up at this late stage – well, you don’t want to know. Prefer to talk about anything but. “But – but I read all 400 pages and wrote detailed notes!” They say. “I just got a week off my vacation there.”
But they may also file a recount for your 2010 tax return. Your separation is absolute. Until you see the cover of the book, and suddenly you are overwhelmed with love for that thing that has consumed you so badly, eating years of your life with its mysteries, problems, and mysterious life force.
But maybe not all courses, podcasts, and the entire writing industry talk about endings, because as my editor Brady Jabbour says, you never really know when you’re finished with a book. Page guides, editing, rewriting, and corrections come back to you in a continuous dance until one day the music stops without warning.
It’s like you never know the last time you visited a nightclub. One day you stop going – just looking back you can see the end.