Someone asked me today what I did over the weekend — and for the first time in a long time I was able to say something other than "I worked on my book" — because my book, gasp, is finished! I sent the final manuscript of Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland to my editor at Crown last week. For several days I've been sort of knocking about the place not sure what to do with myself. After being chained to the keyboard for so long, freedom feels utterly strange. I come out of the office blinking in the light like a night creature at dawn.
Which I am, in book-ending phase. Not necessarily a vampire – ugh – but definitely an owl. The best writing for me begins at sundown and beyond. Before that magic hour, I'm a hack. I'm an editor, a revisor. When the sun goes down and darkness approaches, the words start cascading through. Can't explain it, can't change it, I'm just hardwired that way. No matter how much I like the idea of being a lark – how nice to get up with the sun and be creative! how lovely to sit with my cup of hot tea on the deck and contemplate my story! — nah. It's never gonna happen. My brain likes to contemplate stories in darkness and starlight and the soft quiet of the night better than the chattery freshness of dawn. The world is sleeping, and I can think. Even in a household of college age guys who, when they are here, may be up at all hours, I still write better at night. My guys and their friends are used to seeing the mom walking around at 3:00 a.m., still working on her book.
For me, as for most writers I know, the process of finishing a book is an intense experience, and we emerge from that deadline cave wiped out in one sense, newborn and fragile in another. For the last-phase writing, total immersion, total focus, works for me – abandoning all but the most essential elements of life — I don't cook (my guys are on their own, and if they pick up a pizza or make a late night run for Chinese, they know to get something for me too), I don't clean, I don't do laundry, I sleep at odd hours, I don't talk on the phone, I avoid e-mail (although this proves a mighty temptation). I wear the same thing for days (within reason!). This time I kept choosing comfy black things despite sunlight and great summer weather outside — I wasn't going out there anyway. Later, later for sunshine and flowers and fresh air. Book, book, book. And I wore flip-flops constantly, but then I usually do whenever I can get away with it. (Let's hear it for Teva!)
So it takes crazy hours, bohemian habits, a somewhat OCD focus, but I finish a book in a way that suits me best–writing off the top of my head, no notes, no outline, winging it through the last third, sometimes half of a book. It takes a lot of stamina on my part, and a lot of patience on the part of my family and friends. And off the book goes to the editor, after a last minute polishing. And somehow that stuff often turns out to be some of the best writing in the book, solid and clean and less in need of editing than earlier parts of the book. Go figure, and I wish I could do that all the way through. The process would go a lot faster.
Now, after a few days sans book, I've transitioned from stupor to freedom. I've cleaned my house, done the grocery shopping, talked to the family … I've watched TV and movies, I've talked on the phone and caught up with people, I've started reading books, lovely lovely stacks of books …. and I'm already thinking about the next book I want to write and the next after that, and onward.
Soon I'll see the manuscript again for revisions and it will be me and the computer and the keyboard, the comfy clothes and the night hours again, but for now, I'm back to something like normal and rediscovering the world after what feels like a long time away. I wasn't here completely – I was in 11th century Scotland with Margaret and Malcolm. And I must be recovering from the ending phase of writing the book – because I'm starting to look forward to the editor's comments and the revisions, so that I can immerse myself in that world again.
If you're curious about what I've been up to for the past several many many months… Click here to read an excerpted chapter from QUEEN HEREAFTER: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland, which will be released in hardcover from Crown/Random House in 2010.
Most creative efforts have distinct phases in common, whether it's a novel, a painting, something we've knitted, crocheted, sewn, glued, woven, and so on … what creative stuff do you particularly love to do, and do you go through a crazy intense finishing stage too?
…And now that it's summer, how many of us are slap-slapping around in flip flops?
Susan Sarah, sooooooo glad to be able to say I Finished My Book! 🙂