Friday, May 14, 2021

Facing the Fear of Finishing Your Book

There's a kind of romance that happens between a writer and the book they have been working on for months or years. A relationship, at least, if not romance. They begin to have feelings for each other, a certain fondness, from all they've gone through together. It hasn't often been an easy road but it's been all-consuming. We live with our books, day and night. In waking moments, we're mulling over plot ideas. At night, we may dream solutions.

This bond forms ever more strong as time goes by and the book is still in progress. Sometimes, as an editor, I see writers hanging onto their manuscripts, fixing one more thing, not wanting to let them go. As a writer, I get this--my characters and the place I'm writing about and the situations all occupy so much of my interior life, I am loathe to release them.

Not all writers have this experience. Some I've worked with have little or no emotional, spiritual, or mind-twisting involvement. It's just something they work on every day, as best they can. So be it. That hasn't been my luck.

But eventually, the book work comes to an end. Either there's an agent or editor who's waiting. Or there's another book idea starting to surface. Or we just plain get embarrassed at how long it's taking. We have to, eventually, release the thing into the wider world.

But often, at least for me, as my manuscript gets closer to final revision, a weird feeling arises. I have to say goodbye. And it's like a small death.

I just experienced this earlier in the year, when I sent my latest manuscript to my agent. She's been deluged with writers' work (thank Covid for that, she tells me) and I knew it would take her some time to respond with her suggestions and edits. The first weeks after the book was away (at summer camp, as one colleague wryly calls it), I was lonesome. I moped. I had other projects, but they all seemed as tasty as stale cereal. I found myself deep cleaning the house, writing letters long overdue, cooking soups, and doing other normal life things that I'd put aside during the intense revision phase. A few weeks went by and I began to forget--what was the book about? what were the names of those characters who occupied my every thought?

This week, my agent wrote back, finally. (Publishing is super slow right now, in general, or so I've heard from many authors, so I wasn't worried). She gave the new manuscript a big thumbs up, has great suggestions, and wants me to get busy right away so she can begin to shop it. I'm a little disoriented, because I really did lose track of those characters, that plot, that place, right? I forgot.

One of my clients is stalling on finishing her book--in fact, several are. They have even expressed fear at finishing, because who knows what's next? What will they do with themselves? And worse, will the manuscript be welcomed, loved, published? They are first-time authors-to-be, and I wanted to reassure them--and any of you reading who relate to this--that fear of finishing is real and valid. It can take many forms. Here are some remedies I've used or heard of, if you find yourself in this weird place.

Fear of not having the story to live in and work on--before you finish, make an idea list. Brainstorm other topics you want to write on. Make a collage of ideas. Root out those old notes or partially completed drafts. They may not amount to anything, when you pick them up again (you've gained in skill and may be far beyond them now), but they'll remind you of the other fish in the literary sea.

Fear of being all dried up, that this book is all that's inside and you'll never write again--go online and order or reserve at your local library three books in your genre that look new and interesting. Fill the well with other authors' excellent writing to juice up your own. You'll be reading, a nice break you haven't had time for, and suddenly a story will nibble at your toes.

Fear of letting the manuscript go into the cold world, where nobody will appreciate it--this is the most common and hardest one. Have a serious morale-boosting talk with yourself. Get real about how long it takes to find and sign with an agent (a year is normal, with steady effort). Let go of the fairytales. And ask yourself, do you want this book to be in reader's hands more than you want to protect it (and yourself) from rejection? Because there will be rejection. It's the name of the game. Think of Steven King who started submitting stories when he was a teenager and urban legend says papered his bathroom with rejection letters.

I found it most helpful, for myself, to acknowledge the fear and try to get deeper into the particular kind I'm experiencing. Writing friends help! Don't be ashamed to talk about this with yours. Most writers will understand and often, just by verbalizing what you're experiencing, the charge lessens.

If you are very close to finishing, but you find yourself dragging your feet, go get help. Discuss the concerns you have, let them reduce to their own size. Face the lion, a good adviser once said. Often, it's got some important information for you.

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