I Never Finish a Project

January 31st, 2009

But I make my deadlines

Yesterday, I sent my husband a text at work.  It said, “I’M FINISHED!”  He knew I’d been working on the rough draft of my novel, so he called me back later and said, “Congratulations!  Let’s go out and celebrate!”

Unfortunately for him (he likes going out) the euphoria of writing a final scene had already given way to my normal self-deprecation.  I said, “I mean, I’m not really finished.  It’s an incredibly rough draft.  I have to do tons of work before I can even show it to anyone.   I’m not even sure the book works–I may have to change it completely.”  And so on. 

We never made it out to celebrate–although he did bring some sushi home for us to share with the kids, so I’m certainly not complaining.

But I should have celebrated finishing the rough draft–however unformed and messy it is–because the truth is, if I wait until I’ve “finished a book”  to celebrate, I’ll be looking at a very long time without champagne.

I’m never done.  Not with the rough draft, not with the first draft I submit to my editor, not with the final draft she approves, not with the copy-edited manuscript I read over and make changes to . . .

I’m NEVER done.   I could read a manuscript of mine at any stage–hell, I could read a copy from the fifth printing of one of my books–and still find tons of places where I’d like to tweak a sentence here or there or should have edited a scene more tightly or wish I had used more detail in a descripton and so on.  I’m no Flaubert, who famously and meticulously  and painstakingly crafted each sentence until it was perfect.  I’m a sloppy writer who relies on tons of revisions to get things in any kind of readable shape.  And so I’ll go on and on with the revisions until a deadline looms and then I’ll finally just shove it (figuratively speaking) off my desk and send it along.  Thank god for deadlines, I guess.

At each stage of the writing/publishing process, I hear a voice that says, “It’s not done yet.  You can’t celebrate because it’s not really done.”  The rough draft is too rough, the version I show my husband needs tons of work, I know my editor will have notes when I send her a draft . . .  It goes on and on.  

And as far as celebrating the finished book itself–the printed, bound, for-sale book–well, that takes its shape so gradually that there’s never one moment when I say, “Here it is, done!”   First there’s the cover art, which I usually see initially as a jpeg, then there’s the advanced reader’s copy (or galleys–I never know which it is really) which looks like a bound book but cheaper and shinier and not as nice, and so when I finally hold the finished copy in my hand, it’s kind of a shrug–no surprises, no big moment.  Just little drips of moments.

And as for seeing it in stores . . .  well, I’ve written in the past about that one.  You’d think it would be satisfying, right?  It’s painful, agonizing, heartwrenching (for me).  There are so many books in a bookstore.  It’s not until you see yours surrounded by all those other ones, many of them getting much more prominent display than yours because their authors are more famous or they’ve taken off in ways that yours hasn’t that you realize just how many books there are.  And how hard the task is to try to make yours stand out and be bought.  Seeing my book in a bookstore doesn’t make me feel like celebrating: it makes me want to run home and hide my head under the covers.  (In all fairness, almost everything in life makes me want to do that.)

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.  I’m wildly happy and lucky and thrilled that I get to write books and have them published.   Ask me that any day of the week and I’ll tell you so.  It’s just the whole idea of being done and of celebrating that moment–I can’t figure out when or how to do it.

I guess the trick is not to worry about feeling like I’m done, but to pin down the milestones along the way and say, “I’m going to celebrate this and then get back to work.”  So I should have gone out to celebrate last night, and when I have the draft in decent enough shape to send to my editor, I should celebrate that, too, and maybe I can figure out a moment when I’m done rewriting for good on that one particular project and celebrate that.

And I promise you this: if ever the day comes that a book of mine makes the New York Times bestseller list, I will celebrate so long and so loudly that this country won’t know what hit it. 

But I’m not going to wait for that unlikely event to happen to drink a glass of champagne with my husband.

  • eBookGuru says:

    Finishing a draft of a novel is an accomplishment, and I agree you should celebrate. Then when your done celebrating – get right back into it. Before you know it, you’ll have a finished book.


  • Claire says:

    Right–that’s the way to do it. Say, “I can celebrate even though I know I’m not REALLY done.” Giving yourself permission to enjoy the milestones . . . Thanks!

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