Friday, April 6, 2007

Finishing Things

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.


Anonymous said...

God, I am so jealous of you. Not of the packing, cleaning, selling hell, but of the writing process.

Anonymous said...

Yeah don't take this post as a complaint! I love doing this stuff and feel really lucky to get to do it so much. I was merely musing upon how different the process is than what I once imagined it would be. I mean, I thought I would celebrate "the moment," you know, stride into the living room where my family is sitting and announce, "It's finished!" And there would be a round of quiet applause and some champagne.

Occasionally I hear a would-be writer say that they have a great idea for a book, and should they have it copyrighted, etc. I generally tell them that anyone can get an idea--that writing the book is the main thing. And now it turns out that finishing the book barely even means anything, either--finishing the book is only the first step in yet another series of challenging tasks.

Those tasks are really fascinating and enjoyable, though. Just...different from what I once expected.

rmellis said...

Finishing.... finishing... I can't think of the last time I finished something, not even a

Burl Veneer said...

My vision of the writing and publishing process comes from Edward Gorey's The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel. That makes it look difficult; on the other hand, Harry Stephen Keeler got writing down to a "simple" formula.