Is finished ever really finished?

writing-is-the-artYesterday was my target date. I was supposed to have the next draft of the book totally DONE.

Technically, I made it. Sometime Wednesday morning before work, I finished revising the last paragraph of the last chapter. I want to talk some about the process of writing this book.

It all started the first summer I lived on Orcas Island. I’d just made it out of hell and narrowly escaped homelessness in Seattle. I was offered a kitchen job at the camp that offered housing, which was my own room to myself, and food, and year-round work, sort of. I was staying somewhere, for the first time in years. I wasn’t fully on my feet but for once I didn’t have to worry about basic survival.

With that freedom I started to think about writing again. I had a wild story to tell – a legally blind girl strantded at bus stations and traveling to creepy and non-creepy organic farms, making it through those months in Seattle. I’d had real adventures and I knew, as a writer, I wanted to write about them. One day, on a day off, I sat down to write about my first day of college, when essentially, all of this began.

The next day, another day off, I walked into the local library and there was a flyer for Fall classes. One of them was on memoir writing. It started that day. I don’t know if that’s synchronicity or what, but sometimes I think that when you take a step towards something, it comes to you, or something like that. And I think that writing has invisible power, but maybe that’s a topic for another day.

I loved the class. One of these days I’m going to post about that, what it was like taking that class. The word that comes to mind is watershed. For years I hadn’t really been able to write, but by then, a lot had built up inside me and came pouring out of me. The class was great. I took it again over the winter and in the spring. I wrote and wrote and wrote about all aspects of life between the time I left for college and landing on Orcas. I even dipped further back into writing about some defining childhood moments. I had no idea what shape my book would take.

The next fall, 04, I took the class again, but this time aside from the class, a couple of us who were serious about writing books with our memoir pieces started meeting on Mondays for more in-depth work. Our assignment that season was to pick a season to write about. I chose the spring of my freshman year of college. There was so much in that season – that was when I started having adventures, really started moving outside my comfort zone and beyond my sheltered upbringing. It was also a season packed with emotional wallops and huge wantings. I was drawn to write about it. After that season ended, our Monday group continued to meet and I went on to write about other seasons for the next year or so.

Eventually I started to see that that first year of college had such dramatic personal changes for me that it would really constitute its own book. It all took place in the same place – a small town in Maryland – that I never lived in after that year. It was its own world, its own journey. During the fall of 05 I lived in a room in a very remote house. As it got deeper into fall, I wrote more and more and more, filling in the other parts of that freshman year. I mean sometimes writing for ten hours a day, or more. I almost drowned in writing. It was almost too much. I felt that when I was done, I wanted to LIVE, not just write in seclusion.

I moved at the beginning of December and within a week in the new house, with more people and closer to town, I had finished the last handwritten word of the last section I had to write about for this first book. Wouldn’t ya know, that VERY night I began hanging out with Adrian. In the next months I did my first major revision, finishing in the middle of March, a deadline I set for myself and met, easily.

That was over a year and a half ago. A few months later I realized it still needed some serious work, but didn’t exactly know WHAT it needed. I started to feel overwhelmed, like it was unfixable. I wasn’t writing much, or even looking at my manuscript. My writing group wasn’t meeting that often. Then one night while watching TV, somehow it came up that I’d never seen The Wall, and after months and months of Adrian hearing me say that I never saw this or that TV show, didn’t know this or that actor, had never heard such and such music in my youth, hadn’t been allowed to watch this, that and a million other movies growing up, (which I may add, is something that eventually comes up with anyone I know who is close to my age – I don’t have the same pop culture context – I think it’s one of the reason I feel so comfortable having friends who are decades older than me, they sort of expect me not to get their references just because of my age), suggested that I should write about how I got so socially retarded. At first, I was pissed, it’s a sore spot for me for sure, one more thing separating me from my peers.

By the next morning though, I was thinking of ways I could make it a really fun essay. I spent the next month writing and editing it. It was a blast. I loved sort of looking at my life that way, seeing where it touched on this theme. I felt like I really got to explore my own psyche too. After working on it for awhile I realized that some of this background information was important for the book, and I worked it into a long introduction/prologue.

Then I shipped my book out to an editor and a friend I met in a writing group, and in the next few months got feedback.

Then this last February, I started a different kind of rewriting, not just fixing commas and correcting typos, but really looking at the book as a whole and taking it where I wanted to go. I think it’s a completely different book than it once was. A lot of the extraneous characters and situations got the axe, and a lot of the important events are deepened. I had to really dig deep, to to some unpleasant psychic territory, address albinism more, turn that summary prologue into actual vivid scenes, and so on. It’s a totally different book. I think it’s a lot better, a lot more of a book I’d want to read.

But since there’s so much different, I do want to read through it one more time as a whole, before calling this draft officially DONE. And then there’s the next draft, and the next. And so on.

Currently Listening:
“Wooden Jesus” – Temple of the Dog

6 thoughts on “Is finished ever really finished?

  1. Congratulations! That’s really awesome that you made deadline.Finished is never finished, BTW. When I go back and read articles I’ve *published* there’s always at least a line or a paragraph or two where I’ll think, “I could’ve written that better had I one more revision.” Which is what’s nice about blogging. You reword something if it really bugs you when you go back and read it later.(Incidentally, I’m still waiting to read that essay about you being “socially retarded”….)

  2. Excellent, Emilia! I think Tara’s right, though, that no good writer (or actor or painter) ever thinks their work is finished or couldn’t somehow be tweaked, which is a sign of creativity alive and well. So, what’s the next step?

    “Huge wantings…” I like that phrase.

  3. Tara nailed it – finished never IS finished. But I’m sending you the latest tomorrow via fedex and am so dang happy to get this baby off my desk… for a week or two. And I love to blog for the same reason Tara said – you can change anything on a whim. Luverly… Peace, friend

  4. I think finished is finished for now. I know it needs some tweaking because part of me feels very unfinished about it, and sees holes and even some ways to fix them and make it stronger, but for now, I need a break. Linda’s reading (and I’m reading hers, which is excellent) and after some feedback, I’ll go back and revisit. I’m THINKING about sending a proposal out to agents soon though.

  5. Oh the joys of writing. :) It’s just such personal work, even if it’s fiction, because it feels like a part of YOU. So we all want it to be as close to perfection as we can get it. :)

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