A few weeks ago, in the balmy comfort of an early September morn far, far away from cold and blustery October (today’s weather notwithstanding), I pledged to all the world (a.k.a., the seven readers of this blog) to have my book finished by Oct. 1.
Somehow, that’s today. Don’t ask me how these new months keep steamrolling over us. They just do, faster than you can say home teaching.
But guess what! I did it!
Well, sort of. I don’t technically have a printed copy with a shiny cover and a picture on the back of the author thoughtfully holding his black-rimmed glasses (note to self: get black-rimmed glasses). Apparently there’s this whole business of editing and query letters and submissions and publishers that they don’t tell you about (as if book writing weren’t hard enough already).
But what is done is what they call a “first draft.” That sort of counts, doesn’t it? I didn’t get to write fade out, or curtain, or the end, or roll credits or anything definitively endy. I checked the last page of several books in the house. And it seems that books apparently just decide that’s enough words, leave the rest of the page blank, don’t print any more pages, and that’s how the reader knows it’s over and time to put the book down and say, “I wonder what’s for dinner.”
Maybe this is just me, although I hope not. Tell me I’m not alone in this. But I find that there’s a dangerous gap between when I finish writing a first draft of a thing and when I come back to tackle the rewrite after setting it aside for a period of time. I find that having that gap is important, because some space is needed in order to see the work with fresh eyes.
But to me the gap is also usually dangerous. Like there’s a certain euphoria that accompanies the completion of a first draft. Let us rejoice – a babe has been born. The euphoria is such that it tends to bathe the whole project in my memory with this warm glow like some kind of Norman Rockwell painting. But then a week or so passes by, and when I finally do pull the project out of the figurative drawer, I discover that someone has apparently stolen the Norman Rockwell and replaced it with a bad forgery colored with a few of the 3,000 remaining markers from the bin in the basement that the girls used to use when they were little.
“Is this really the thing I wrote? This can’t be the thing I wrote. The thing I wrote I’m pretty sure was pretty good. This is… is this even English?”
This has happened to me enough times that I have come to expect it. Recently I read something I had set aside for about a year and when I didn’t cringe during the fresh-eyed re-read, and maybe even kind of liked it, that worried me, like something must be wrong with it. Or me. (It’s complicated.)
But that doesn’t happen very often. Usually it’s more on the “ugh” side. And I’ve come to learn that it is just part of the process, and I should try not beat myself up too much and just get back to work and try to make it better bit by bit. And gradually, it seems to get better. I like this from writer Susan Sontag, “What I write is smarter than I am, because I can rewrite it.”
Thank heavens for rewrites.