On Not Being Finished

We have a Winter Storm Watch in effect and the moon is giving its own misty ring of warning.

It’s funny, when I finished drafting The Middle Princess last month, I didn’t feel much of anything. No exuberance. No post-partum sorrow. I’m not sure I even mentioned it here.

I understand now that this is because I knew I wasn’t really finished with it.

Oh, I’d written clear through to the end. I’m a beginning-to-end writer, writing the story as if I’m reading it. Which is often how it feels: write the next page so I can find out what happens! But I also knew the ending wasn’t right. I had an idea of how the problems should resolve and I kept thinking it would pop up. Maybe in the next scene? And then the story was done and this magical thing I thought would appear never had.

So, I went straight back to page one and started revising.

I knew all along I’d have to immediately revise. I’m starting to learn my own process and that’s just part of it. Now, let me make clear that this was a painful growth step for me. I know – it sounds absurd. All writers have to revise. But I don’t like it. (Though apparently I do like italics, especially today.) Back in my younger and far more arrogant days, i.e. college, I composed all of my papers on a Brother Correctronic typewriter. For those of you young-uns, this was before the popular use of the home computer and word processing and my typewriter could remember and correct an ENTIRE LINE of text. This was a miracle after years of struggling with white-out and correction tape. In the snow. Uphill both ways. Seriously, people in my dorm lined up to use my typewriter.

Anyway, I wrote all of my papers in one sitting, composed on the typewriter, with no revision. I mostly got away with it, too.

But what I’ve learned about myself as a fiction writer is, because I don’t (can’t) pre-plot, the story drifts as I go. I discover new things about the world and the characters that I didn’t know at the beginning. I’m now more resigned to the ugly need for a “do-over” on each draft.

This is totally how it feels to me. Like I didn’t get it right the first time and I have to do it again. In my head, I understand this is not a reasonable attitude, but…

So, I went back to page one and began revising, reworking and smoothing the story as I went. Making the histories consistent. I hoped that, as I approached the end for a second time, this magical something would appear.

It did.

Hallelujah.

I don’t know how I missed it the first time, but last week, I found the missing scene. The one that ties up all these little clues I found along the way. I wrote it yesterday and sped right through to the end. Everything fell into place.

This time I felt the relief, the exuberance and sorrow of finishing.

I only wish I could have whipped that final page out of the typewriter with a triumphant flourish.

I kind of miss that part.

14 Replies to “On Not Being Finished”

  1. I had one of those typewriters in college, too. I charged people $1/page for papers, and “helped” with some editing as I typed. It was a nice little side business.

    Congrats on finishing another novel!!

  2. Great post. Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t know where she’s going when she starts a book. It’s nice to be surprised along the way, but sometimes I just get plain lost. Keri, I love the puzzle analogy.

  3. Yep, that sounds about how the writing works up here, too. I’m so glad you found the missing scene – I hate when the unifying thingie isn’t there when you need it – and that everything fell into place.

    Heh, I do kind of miss the click-clack, schwing of the old typewriter. Not that I don’t love my ‘puter. I do, but this is more like nostalgia. Grandma’s green manual typewriter couldn’t do an nth of what this machine can do, but I miss it.

    1. See, the pre-plotters aren’t commenting because they stopped reading in disgust. I know what you mean, B.E., the sound and feel of those old typewriters – so nostalgic!

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  5. My process is very similar too, Jeffe! It’s painful sometimes, isn’t it. What a great feeling when you discover the one thing that makes it all work and fall into place.

    Oh, and I remember those typewriter days in college. 25 cents for an hour in the typewriter section of the library. Hahaha

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