How do you feel when it's over? How do you feel when you've finished that first draft? Do you feel a little empty? Is it like post-partum depression? You spent all this time and emotion and days, weeks, months, dreaming, pounding keys, and now what? Did you let that manuscript rest a little? Let your brain rest a little? (or treat it to something bubbly and numbing?) Did you start thinking of editing in your sleep? Were your characters calling you up in the middle of the night saying, "I miss you, come back, you forgot a transition between chapter twenty-two and twenty-three?"
It is an odd feeling to complete a manuscript, especially when you have given yourself a very time-compressed deadline. You live and breathe that work, and then suddenly it's over. Gone. You are left with a 614K document file. What do you do? Comb through it again and again. Look for typos. Check to see that your characters are staying true to their voices. I have one character in my new work-in-progress that does not use conjunctions. No, he does not. Another says "ye," instead of "you." Fine tooth combs don't alway catch these things on screen, so often, I have to print out the full text- in this case 212 pages and edit the old fashioned way.
Once the line edits are done, and the re-reading makes me smile, or cry, or feel hopeful, then, and only then do I hit the "send" button and my new child goes off to school for the first time- off to my agent's inbox. Waiting there in the queue for her to read it.
And then you are back to that "post-post" feeling again, which will repeat itself when, if all goes well, your "baby" will be sent on to submissions. All that waiting and anticipating is anxiety producing. Writer Jeffrey Eugenides told me that he called it, "being on the roaster" when I met him at the Seattle Library over a month ago. It's true. It does feel like you, or your creation is on a spit, turning ever so slowly over a fire. There is really nothing you can do to put the fire out. Except maybe to start dreaming of the next story. To start plotting, scheming, researching, sketching.
But really it's that fire that keeps you going in the first place, so enjoy the heat while it's there, because it is your creativity that produced it. Break out the marshmallows and toast your accomplishments- each step of the way...
"It's not the destination, it's the journey," is a popular and true statement.
To that, I add, "it's not the published book, it's the story behind the story that makes your journey so rich and rewarding," so enjoy it all whether or not you ever get "there." Wherever there is.
Writer Richard Peck said, "you should end with a beginning."
I agree. I will be beginning another book soon.
I hope you will find joy in endings, and beginnings...
and middles, too.