Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

November 30, 2012

Spring cleaning

When Thornton Wilder finished writing his novel Theophilus North, he told friends: “So I finished the plagued book. I’m accustomed to turn my back on a piece of work once it’s finished– but it’s something new for me to feel empty-handed and deflated– to wake up each morning without that sense of the task waiting for me on my desk. Daily writing is a habit– and a crutch and a support; and for the first time I feel cast adrift and roofless without it. I hate this and am going to get back into a harness as soon as I can.”

I couldn’t have said it better. It is amazing how sad and purposeless and lost you feel after finishing a manuscript, even when that manuscript still has many steps to go through before publication. I handed the fourth Velva Jean novel (American Blonde) over to my editor in mid-September. Soon, she will send it back to me with her first round of notes and we will go back and forth till the novel is ready.

There is a mountain of other writerly work to be done. Even without American Blonde on my desk, I am as busy as ever. However, I still feel like Dickens’s Miss Havisham, wandering around my office, bereft and lonely, still dressed in my writing clothes, searching for the next idea. I have many, many, many of them, but until I’ve settled on one and am lost inside it, that feeling of being adrift and roofless will linger.

Usually, there is only one thing to do. Clear away the cobwebs and clean the office.

To offer some perspective, the only time I ever feel like cleaning is when I finish a book. I am not someone who vacuums to relax (like my best friend), or who scrubs the refrigerator shelves when she’s angry (like another friend of mine). Growing up, you couldn’t even tell that I had a floor because every inch of my carpet was covered in clothing, books, and records.

But to make ready for whatever comes next, I need to clean my office. Not just dusting and straightening– we’re talking some sort of overhaul. I need to clear away some of the clutter, reorganize bookshelves and closet, move my desk, reconfigure the furniture and general layout. In short, new book, new office. It happens every time.

Soon enough, I’ll be happily back in that harness, and I might as well be ready for it.

March 14, 2012

Telling a Book Goodbye

There’s a very strange something that happens when you finish a book. Call it Writer’s Postpartum, but it is a kind of mourning/grieving/losing-your-best-friend/wandering-about-the-house-without-a-purpose feeling. It’s the feeling that something is missing, that something is not quite right, as if you’ve suddenly woken up to find yourself very far from home. When I’m done with a book, I always feel a bit like Miss Havisham– lost and sad and rambling about in the ruins of her mansion.

Because there are so many stages of a book, the postpartum can come at many different times, the worst of it being just after you turn a book in. For months, you’ve been rushing, rushing, rushing, and pushing yourself beyond all mental/emotional/physical limits to finish it, and then– just like that– it’s gone and on your editor’s desk, and it doesn’t matter if you have another book lined up right afterward, waiting to be researched, outlined, written. You still have that overwhelming feeling of loss.

On Friday, I Fedexed the first pass loose galleys of Becoming Clementine to my editor at Penguin which, in English, means that I’m essentially done making changes to the book. I will see the manuscript one more time– for what is called the second pass– but that will basically be to proof for typos. All major changes are now completed. Now, on the one hand I’m thrilled not to have to read the book again with the kind of intensity you have to give it when making edits, large and small. And there is another book to be written before September, after all, so I do need to be concentrating on that. But those postpartum feelings still crop up.

I’m not the only writer to experience them. Some of my favorite quotes on the subject:

“The book dies a real death for me when I write the last word. I have a little sorrow and then go on to a new book which is alive. The rows of my books on the shelf are to me like very well embalmed corpses. They are neither alive nor mine. I have no sorrow for them because I have forgotten them, forgotten in its truest sense.” — John Steinbeck

“I usually have a sense of clinical fatigue after finishing a book.” — John Cheever

“Writing a book is like a purge; at the end of it one is empty… like a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again.” — Daphne du Maurier

“When a book is done, he has his own life and you forget about him. He goes and lives alone; he takes an apartment.” — Oriana Fallaci

“I scarcely look with full satisfaction upon any (of my books); for they do not seem what they might have been. I often wish that I could have twenty years more, to take them down from the shelf one by one, and write them over.” — Washington Irving