Finished, but not ‘finished’ finished

On the excitement or humdrum caused by finishing, but not ‘finishing’ finishing, the novel.

Sitting here in Starbucks feeling… numb, mostly. At around 11:18 I finished the very first tentative draft of the novel. And there’s now the anxious wait for my sanity-check readers to get back to me and tell me whether they like it or not. Whether it makes sense or not.

It’s not ‘finished’ finished. And I don’t mean ‘not finished’ in the artistic sense, either. But the story is told. What remains is detail, polish and refinement.  I’m calling it the alpha draft. Because once one sups with a geek, one learns to carry a napkin. Or something. It’s a useful metaphor. It has all the functions of the finished product. And more bugs. And swearing.

And finishing it feels…odd. Scary. Disturbing. Almost a panicky-type feeling.

I’ve been trying to write this story – and it is more or less the same story – for eighteen years. I have a WordPerfect draft of the opening chapter somewhere that dates back to 1996. There were earlier attempts on a BBC Micro. But sadly, they are lost for ever. Or maybe, hurrah! They’re lost forever!

I’ve written and re-written and edited and debated and torn up and destroyed countless first chapters. It never worked. I was never happy with it. The characterisation was too transparently based on people I was having relationships with. It was too cutesy. It was trying to be too clever. It was in the wrong tense. It was in the wrong person. It was in the wrong language… you get the picture.

It’s been torture. Mental, emotional, torture. All I’ve ever wanted to do is write. Well, to tell stories – I enjoy the odd shaggy dog moment in the pub or idle dreams of directing as much as the next slacker. But I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t turn the page. I couldn’t write the next chapter. I tried to persuade myself that I didn’t even want it to be published, that I just wanted to write for its own sake.

When I meet that person, I want to shake their hand, pilgrim.

And anyway, two things happened:
First, I went on an Arvon Foundation creative writing course. Now, I have an entire shelf of books that are supposed to teach you creative writing. Some of them I’ve even opened. A very select few, I have read. But creative writing books, for the most part, tell you things that you already know. The course didn’t teach me anything fundamentally new, or particularly life-changing. But, and it’s the biggest but in the world, it did so in an environment that was designed to get me to write.
And so I did. A bit. Well, for me, quite a lot. I got excited.

Those that know me, know I don’t ‘do’ excited.

Second, my wife erm, happened. Now I’m afraid she’s mine and you’re not having her, so you’ll just have to try and find a suitable substitute in the husbands, wives, civil partners and you-know-its-complicated shop.  Check for best before dates. It’s a kicker. Anyway, my wife gave me the time, space and encouragement to write. And I will always be pathetically gratefully to her for that.

Because I did it. I slayed the dragon. Ok, it’s still bleeding. And the script is not in agent-ready state, by any means. But I wrote the story down. I sat and I typed and I typed and I typed. And some of the keystrokes even came out in the right order.

As someone once said to me – time, tenacity, talent. I’ve dealt with the first two, now it’s time to sharpen the third.

I’ve listened to the same six Mogwai and Sigur Ros albums until my ears are pretty much oblivious to white noise and alien harmonies. I sit in Starbucks, more or less swimming in screaming babies, toddlers and extra-hot extra-shot extra-wet vanillagingerbreadlatte and tune out the rest of the world. Well, except for the old man with bryclreemed hair who sits behind me and reads his spreadsheets out loud. Or the american media buyer this morning who had an impressive syllable per second ratio. Oh, and the odd young man who spent an hour crying while talking to his female companion. I don’ think they were breaking up. Maybe he’d heard a really sad spreadsheet.

And now, it’s a few hours later and I simply don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t start the re-writes and amends yet. I’m too tired for any normal kind of behaviour. (Translated: really don’t want to do the housework right now).

I don’t feel like celebrating – there’s nothing to celebrate yet. I know I keep banging on about it. But it just. Feels. Weird.

Let’s hope it feels even more weird when I print off the bastard child and seal it in a brown paper prison. And with any luck, I’ll reach agents’ desks just in time for a new year’s resolution to publish more nonsense-masquerading-as-prose.

To ellipsis and beyond my friends….

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