We're packing, putting things in storage, painting and cleaning as a prelude to putting our house on the market. This all happened quickly, and we haven't had much time to prepare...and we really need to be finished by Monday night. This gives us a nice ending: whatever we've accomplished by Monday night, that's what we're going to have done. The end. The deadline defines the goal.
Sometimes I wish writing were like that. Due to a family trip, and now this real estate hulabaloo, I've had to neglect my novel. But I've been thinking about it, and I know where it's headed now, and what the ending will be, and how much more I have to write. Sometime this spring, probably in May, I'll finish.
But of course not really. I already know of some things that will have to be added, and some that will be cut. I'm already making these changes in my head. Generally, I do a draft, then I spend a week at the coffee shop with a red pen, and then over the next month I do another draft. Then I give it to Rhian, Ed, Bob, Brian, and/or some other people, and they give me comments, and then I do another draft and send it to my agent.
And then if I'm lucky a publisher picks it up, and I do a major overhaul, and then a minor one, and then copyedits, then page proofs, and then galleys. And even if the thing makes it all the way into a bookstore, it doesn't really feel finished. It was, is, and always will be a sort of nebulous imaginary thingness without real boundaries. It's a big sloppy idea. It's never quite real, and it's never quite done.
My youthful vision of book publishing comes from the ending of Back To The Future, when Crispin Glover's big boxful of his latest science fiction hit arrives, and everyone beams, except for Michael J. Fox, who is still rattled from having come a little too close to porking his own mom. The truth, however, is much more complicated, and ultimately more interesting. I wish I could experience that theoretical rush one is supposed to get upon "finishing," but I guess I prefer the geeky pleasures of the endlessly unfolding process.