On Finishing…Sort Of

“I think I finished my book”

My boyfriend looks at me like he’s trying to do complex math problems in his head. “What do you mean, you think?”

“Not the one I’m reading, the book I’m writing. I finished the first draft…I think.”

To some people, this doesn’t make much more sense than “thinking” I was done with reading a book. How can you not know for sure? Is the story done or not? But it’s not really that simple. Even Da Vinci himself said that “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” At some point, with every novel, painting, poem, sketch, song, you have to step back and say, “I’ve done everything I can.” The piece never lives up to your imagined ideal, but given your current capabilities, you’ve done the best you can and there’s nothing left to do.

That was the case with the novel I finished last night. Or rather, the draft I finished. I got to the last scene in my outline, and just sort of…stopped. It is by no means complete or good or even satisfying, the story arc sort of peters out rather than coming to a close. But to go on at this stage would be beating a dead horse instead of hitching up a new one.

All of this is to say that finishing my first draft was not nearly the confetti-raining, bells chiming, momentous occasion that I was hoping it would be. Instead, it feels a bit like stopping for the night on a cross-country road trip. Sure, you’re relieved to have that first leg of the journey over and done with but how many more days of driving lay ahead of you? How many revisions and rewrites will it take for this novel to actually be done enough for the world to see?

It’s going to take a few days for the reality to set in that this first draft is finished. That there are no more new pages to write, no deadline to hit. I’ve accomplished the first milestone towards my ultimate goal of publishing a novel, a milestone that many people never hit, and that I myself have only achieved a few times. Knowing the steps that lie ahead, knowing that I have never successfully finished the revision stage of the writing process makes me feel like I need to qualify the achievement: I finished a novel! Well, sort of. I finished the first draft, anyway. And it’s not very good, it’s a total mess really. I need to do so much editing and revising and…

But despite all the caveats, it is worth celebrating. I wrote a novel. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It has characters and story arcs and subplots. It’s a novel and it’s real, and it’s finished…for now.

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