On Writing: The Last Sentence (For Now)

“Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world. ”

 –  Tom Clancy


I haven’t posted about writing for a while, but last I remember, I discussed the actual writing of a book, of transforming the bullets in an outline into the words on a page. I was a bit limited with that subject, as people have their own way of going about laying out their story. But tonight I wanted to talk about what it feels like to actually finish a manuscript (albeit the first, unedited draft).

Some people don’t. In fact, I don’t think it’s too bold of a statement to say that many people who start novels end up giving up and never finish them.

I’ve only done this once. And I’m not sure if that time counts, because it was a novel I’d never planned on taking very far. It was actually based off a TV show I enjoyed, but it only ran for a few episodes. The series closed on a cliffhanger, so I decided it might be fun to imagine how the story ended. I knew from the start it was mostly an informal chance to play around with writing techniques, and after a few months I scrapped it, moving on.

I have finished my share of first-draft manuscripts, though, and I must say I’m still not used to the feeling of typing the last words of a story I’ve worked on for months.

Based on what I’ve heard, that feeling is different for each person. Some people feel sweet, amazing relief that they satisfactorily completed a story, start to end, and they just want to put it away for a while. Others want to immediately whip out the editing pen and get to work making every word as perfect as possible.

I’m mostly in the middle, but if we were to draw out a spectrum, I would be more towards the first option. With my time as limited as it is, I’m so relieved just to have a manuscript done and wrapped up that I don’t want to come back to it for a while. When I finish, I make note of the time and date, jot down a few words to commemorate it, whip out the sparkling grape juice, and usually watch the movie Super 8 if only because I still enjoy it.

I give myself a resting period of a few days (not too many, though) and then get—as our friends in Aerosmith say—back in the saddle. Generally that means deciding what story I want to start on next, because I believe in letting a manuscript sit for at least a month before beginning the process of editing.

But, that’s another subject. One that I’ll be tackling soon, in fact.

So. If you actually do finish (or have finished) a novel, congratulations! I know that doesn’t mean much coming from a stranger with a blog named after an obscure sci-fi movie, but I still like saying it.

Because I know so, so many people who have given up on their stories, and that always makes me sad, because I feel like if you love something like writing, you would keep doing it no matter how bad the finished product is. Maybe that’s because I have low standards, or else because I’m ridiculously stubborn in finishing something I’ve started. I’m not sure.

In any case, even if your story isn’t published (none of mine are, for example), you can still keep them for yourself. Neil Gailman once said that “a book is a dream you hold in your hands.” I at least try to keep in mind that not every dream we have is meant to be shared. Sometimes, they’re so precious because they’re ours alone. No one else’s.

Sometimes, dreaming itself is what’s important.