>I know. It’s never done. The writing, that is. But that platitude isn’t useful because at some point, you decide that the last period you typed is, indeed, the last one.
But how does one know that another period, sentence, paragraph, chapter–even an entire new section–isn’t required?
Take the novel, for instance. The first time I thought a novel of mine was finished was sometime during the last century. I am not kidding. When I was on maternity leave with my daughter, I wrote a novel about a dead baby discovered on a Mississippi river bank by a young girl. The novel was called Capa City and the setting was based on a small river town on the Upper Mississippi that I had grown to love when I was a twenty-something. I wrote most of Capa City while my baby daughter was napping and put that final period on a page sometime around the time she was seven or eight months old. That novel was read by a few friends and a couple of instructors. They remarked on the loveliness of the descriptions and other interesting things, all in a very vaguely positive manner. I set the novel aside, thinking about adding another section to it. Maybe sending it out to get published. But did nothing else. And….then….it….sat.
My daughter is now 13.
In the intervening time, another baby was born (he’s now 11). Another son, my eldest, grew up and went to college and is now off in Norway in grad school. During that time I wrote an entirely different novel that was my M.F.A. thesis project, a finalist for outstanding prose thesis even. It was a novel filled with grief, loss, heartbreak, loneliness — all of the feelings writers have for their work. Okay sort of just kidding, but writers know that’s not too far from the truth.
The novel was titled Lucid. It was based on a setting I was familiar with and also had grown to love, out in western Minnesota where the plains end and the woodlands begin. A husband and wife have lost their only child, and perhaps their love for each other — she goes slightly crazy, he has an affair. In the end, they find their way back to each other, sorta maybe, and the lover is doomed to a heartless relationship with some rich, evil guy. Something like that.
It too had a final period. I even made some attempts to see if there was a wider audience interested in reading a print version of it. Unfortunately I ran out of interest seeking a publisher, probably too soon, but came to the conclusion that though it was indeed DONE, it wasn’t compelling enough to go beyond its tiny audience of my M.F.A. committee and a few other close friends. And….then….it….sat.
Now I have written another novel. It opens with the discovery, by a young girl, of a dead baby on a Mississippi riverbank. Its setting is based on an upper Mississippi river town where I grew up. This time, in addition to the grief, loss, heartbreak and loneliness, I have added — Ta Da! — a plot! And other characters! It has been read and reread and critiqued by my inner circle. And just a few nights ago, I put the final period on the last page of Washed Up.
I think it’s better than my other novels. I’ve begun sending out queries to publishers and agents because I believe it might actually be a good read and beyond the usual small group. So is it done? This time?
I had a different sense when I typed the final sentence of Washed Up a few nights ago. Not the feeling of a runner collapsing at the end of a long race, exhausted but triumphant. Instead, I felt like a musician, performing comfortably with my instrument after long years of study, practice, and endless rehearsal. Everything seems to be humming smoothly. That creative machinery connecting my brain to my fingers was working almost automatically over the past few weeks. I am hoping to keep the momentum going into the next phase of this project (submitting, submitting, submitting) and the next novel. Now that I finally finished Capa City (later Riverbaby, and now Washed Up), I’m ready to start on something new.