When I was a kiddie, I always imagined that the feeling of completing a book would be something like Stephen King described in Misery. A glass of Dom Perignon, a single cigarette and a single match, sit back and sigh, content in the knowledge of a job well done.
Sadly, it doesn’t work that way for me. It’s true that I tend to accelerate as I get nearer the end, until eventually I’m spewing out 500 words a second in some kind of crazed literary seizure. This acceleration continues until I crash over the finish line and slump across my keyboard with smoking eyes and fingers worn down to little wiggly stumps. But strangely enough, the feeling when I’m done is never quite the one you’d expect. Instead, I become sort of vacant and indifferent towards my book for a couple of days. This is probably a bit of a mind-reset, I suppose. My brain needs the rest, and all my enthusiasm has run dry, since it all got poured into the finale.
The thing is, for me, a book is complete when it’s printed and bound and in my hands. Until then, I know there’s work to done. Writing those final lines only means I’ve earned a small break until I have to print it out and start editing it. And the finale that I’ve just written will be getting special attention, since I caned through it at the speed of light and no doubt it’s extra sloppy.
So I faff about listlessly for a day or two until I can be bothered to print the book, then I get on to editing it. That’s when I get excited about it again. The process of reading over the parts you wrote six or eight months ago reawakens all that enthusiasm. By then I’ve forgotten all the little details, so I spend my time oohing and aahing at all the cool bits that now seem as if they were written by someone else. (Speaking of Stephen King, he advocates putting your manuscript away for six months after you’ve finished it, just so you can come back at it with an objective eye. It’s good advice if you have the time, but I suspect my editor would feast on my liver if I started up with that.)
During that first edit, I spend most of my time dealing with all the little notes I left myself in the body of the manuscript. Things like ‘GO BACK AND MENTION THIS EARLIER, IDIOT’ and ‘DIDN’T HE GET SHOT IN THE LEG A CHAPTER AGO?’ Stuff like that. But with more swearing. I fix up all the major bits and smooth off the rough edges. I eliminate repetition of words and phrases, and take out all the unnecessary language and overwritten bits. Then it goes to my editor, who pulls me up on all the stuff I tried to get away with. Then I edit it again.
Nowadays it only takes about two proper edits, because I plan out my books much more than I used to. Before, I’d do four or five drafts. By the fifth, my soul would be withered and blackened and I would loathe the book I’d just lovingly crafted. It would take until publication day for me to want to see it again.
The moral of the story? Finishing a book is only the halfway point. Like crossing the finish line of a marathon only to be told that you have to run back to the start again. Except it’s, like, a million times more fun. And I’ve really never seen the point in marathons…