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

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