The really great thing about finishing a book is that you go to write your to-do list and ‘book’ is not there. Neither are any number of book-related entries.
Manuscript? Nope. Chapter 3 rewrite? Hell no. Research ‘anal retentive’ for Chapter 40? Ask that guy on Level 6 about formatting? Get the Czech word from Grandma Zuzi for a person-whose-hungry-heart-has-become-a-stomach-that-is-eating-them-alive. Update Evernote. Download that cool mind-mapping app… buy a new pencil sharpener/laptop-case/ring binder/more colored pens (or notebooks, butcher’s paper, chocolate, Merlot, beta blockers, cold medicine, miso soup packs…). None of that’s there.
A colleague and I were recently on the train together. We were kind of staring into space like Zombies because he had recently submitted his doctorate and I had just gotten the book to the agent and on top of that, we’d each had to teach five freshman classes in a row.
I said, ‘Why don’t I feel euphoric?’
And he said, ‘I know. You live and die with the work.’
You live and die with the work. That’s it. I know it’s been said before, but never better, to my mind. Oscar Wilde noted that a book is never finished, it is merely abandoned, and that’s kind of it, but doesn’t get to the heart of it the way my friend did. I lived the book for eighteen months or so. I lived through its conception, development and multiple revisions. I abandoned it once, killed it off twice. I lived through its revival and re-editing, and fought over it with my husband, agent, and best friend. I pimped it out to readers, writers groups, and family members. I lived through its final completion and tedious production into a manuscript from the multiple chapters, flyleaf pages, fragments, back stories, prologues and so on. I lived through sending it off in a caffeinated haze and then getting drunk and waking the next morning to the realization that I’d sent the wrong file and would therefore have to resend it in a hungover daze. And now it’s gone.
A part or parts of me have gone with it. Traveled through the ether (in both PDF and Word format) to sit on a virtual desktop in a city far-far-away, abandoned and waiting to live again. Tell-tale heart and soul survivor. Eye of God, Achilles’ heel, pound of flesh, and finger of time. Savage breast, yeah. It’s all there and I’m here. I check my pulse. Stare at the blank page in my diary.
I write, or maybe just imagine writing. I think ‘wash dog’, and ‘call the dishwasher man,’ and I think about rescuing my son from his funk and helping my husband find the sewer line to our house, and I get up to look for my notes on the Eumenides for the classes I teach on Thursday, and then I sit down again. I’ve a facial next Monday and my writing group tomorrow.
I stare at this blank page in my diary, thinking about the next book (maybe a sequel, Mr. Wilde). I do that flippy thing with my pen, and wait to live again.