Finishing a book is an odd feeling. If you are in the fortunate position of having a contract, it will include a date for submission – and so that becomes your deadline. But a collection of numbers with next year at the end acquires a personality when you write it in your diary; you find out what day of the week it is, and what other commitments and anniversaries surround it. The maths of its composition will come haunt you; the sequence acquiring a rhythm, all the more insistent as it becomes ‘six months from now’, or more alarmingly – ‘next month’.
Nor does the date stay in its place. As time goes by, and you can feel the book edging towards completion, the submission date starts approaching from the opposite direction, accompanied by the rest of the world; suddenly your private writing project seems endowed with a much wider significance.
It’s a strangest feeling – you in the centre of your thought process; your project as the epicentre. And then suddenly everything you overhear becomes related to what you are writing about. I approach our daily paper fearfully, wondering what will now leap out at me; chance conversations are invested with new meaning and there is a huge power in the overheard (from whatever source: snatches from the radio as well as other people’s conversations). And whereas I have always thought I have hidden this strange experience rather well, it’s obviously entirely evident to those I live with. I heard my daughter asked recently what it was like when her mother was finishing a book: ‘It’s odd because she’s there, but not there – and although she answers you, you can tell she is thinking about something else.’
My husband has parachuted, and told me about ‘ground rush’ – the feeling as you near the end of your fall, when terra firma suddenly seems to rise up to meet you. It’s apparently a surprise because you don’t realise how fast you are travelling downwards, and so when an unmoving, hard surface acquires detail, the effect can be dizzying. The analogy works well for the finishing of books.
For me, the most obvious sign that I have finished is that I feel sleepy. When engrossed with a book I regularly rise at 5am; to access my best time for the free flow of ideas. Since finishing last Saturday I have slept until a normal time every day. I feel sated, sleepy and content – and want to cook (perhaps a sign of how much I have neglected my family over the past nine months). But what I have sent does feel like a whole, and now that it is safely lodged with its publishers I can stop worrying about the computer crashing. And that feels good.
The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing comes out in late autumn, published by Bloomsbury.
Alison will also be talking at The Insider Guide to How to Get Published on 18 June 2011, for which there are still tickets available.