You don’t really know it’s over until it’s over.
I had thought I’d finish my first novel in three months. Three months seemed like an acceptably long time to put into it: a quarter of a year; the equivalent of my summer holidays from teaching. It also seemed like a short enough time to devote to something that sounded like a fanciful idea dreamed up by every cinematic portrayal of an exhausted professional: I am going to quit my job, (travel the world) and write a novel.
Failure loomed but not quite in the way that I expected.
Three months was long enough for me to write a draft. It would be another nine before I finished it.
I have to say, it doesn’t sit quite right to say that I am finished with it. Whenever I read the manuscript back through I am left unsettled by the feeling that there is still something I could do to make that bit better; to get it that much closer to what I had in my head.
There has to be a line, otherwise you’d go on writing and rewriting indefinitely. The problem is that you are the one to draw the line and it can be awfully hard to do just that.
So when I finished the novel the overwhelming feeling I had was that I wasn’t finished, was I? Could I be? That day I had done another pass through the book for errors and general polishing. For months I had been pruning the story: making it tighter, leaner, as good as I could possibly get it; reluctantly at first, then willingly, taking in the advice from a handful of people that I had let read it. It did feel as if amendments that I made on that day were as far as I could go. Tentatively, I said to myself that I had finished it.
Just as the day when I completed the first draft of the same book, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about the day I’m saying I finished it. I simply closed my computer and realised that it was up to me to make something of the occasion, if I even wanted to consider it an occasion. Aside from a two close friends, my partner and a family member nobody knew that I was even writing a novel. I marked the day in the end by emailing the finished product to those who did know, asking them if they’d be my readers once more. I asked them for their ruthlessness.
I took the afternoon off from writing having sent those emails and waited for a feeling that I obviously felt should have been there, to come. When it didn’t, I put on a French language video on YouTube for some background noise and decided to take a long shower. Once I was dry and had had enough of French I found myself back downstairs at my laptop, this time with a distinct excitement working its way up from the bottom of my stomach.
And I started a second book.