On Friday, at around 3:30 p.m. I finished the draft of my work-in-progress. There were many days I thought that would never happen. To me, writing this fifth book looked like a long dusty road to nowhere.
The road from Cat Harbor to the Isthmus, Santa Catalina Island
The word count is too short but I’m not worried about that. It will get longer as I add texture and the scenes I’m sure I’ve left out along the way. For now, all of the elements of the story are written on the page.
I used to print copies of my work willy-nilly but I’ve stopped doing that because too many trees died for the cause. I edit on the screen, which I don’t like much. Now that I am “finished” I will give myself permission to print out the manuscript and begin editing by hand—my favorite thing. I use a different color paper for each draft. It’s a silly ritual because there is no rhyme or reason to the color scheme. Someday I’ll write down the order so I don’t forget: 1st draft pink, 2nd draft blue. For now, I have a fresh ream of lovely green paper waiting to be inked.
I know why it took me so long to finish. This book is a departure from my other four novels and it feels more personal. I started it around the time my mother died, which set off a chain reaction of heartbreaking events for me. Plumbing the depths of my pain in a novel wasn’t easy. For a long time, I felt too vulnerable to allow people to read my words much less write cruel things about them. As Erica Jong once said: “I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.”
An osprey AKA fish hawk perched on a mast, waiting to pounce, Santa Catalina Island
I’ve never suffered from writer’s block, just writer’s rebellion. I’m not going to finish and you can’t make me. A week or so ago, I called my friend Karen Olson. Our first novels were published around the same time with the same publisher and the same editor. We first met at BoucherCon at one of the wonderful dinners hosted by Mysterious Press and have been friends ever since. We don’t see each other very often—we live at opposite corners of the U.S.—so our typical phone conversations last for 2 hours or so.
Both of us are working on manuscripts that have been particularly difficult for us to complete. Karen works best with a deadline. I’ve never missed a deadline but I hate them. They stress me out. I prefer dawdling. Why hurry? Wisdom grows with age. Right? Toward the end of our marathon conversation, Karen and I made a pact that we would finish a draft of our novels by October 1st. I should have offered her a handicap because my page count was higher. But she didn’t ask for one because she’s no dawdler.
Frankly, I didn’t think I would make the dealine, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I recently spent some time in Catalina where I have always been able to write.
Waiting for inspiration, Isthmus Harbor, Santa Catalina Island
Of course, I’m not really “finished” with the novel. I’m just beginning. The real work starts now: editing and polishing. As Anton Chekhov once said. “My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.”