I’ve never actually typed ‘The End’ on a manuscript. Maybe it feels too much like tempting fate to me, especially on a troubled first draft. Like, the more pronounced my certainty and celebration, the more work there will be to do when the edits come back.
‘Finishing’ this time (oh God, I typed it) was harder than before. There was a brief sense of accomplishment, but it didn’t feel enough to justify the amount of work I’d put into the manuscript, and then a terrible sense of loss and dread swept in, and I can’t remember feeling to such an extent before.
I’ve been trying to work out why. What it might mean about my manuscript, or my writing.
It feels a lot like grief.
I’ve lost a world that grew around me and people I had come to love. And of course, I’ve surrendered that perfect vision of what it might have been, if only I were Julie Cohen or Maggie O’Farrell or Sarah Waters.
Not to mention I’ve spent too long in its company now, and as we all know from months of lockdown, that’s an uncomfortable feeling to have about a loved one.
We need a break, me and my manuscript, but that break is going to change us. It has to be read now, and all its faults exposed. (I’m so very aware of its many faults, I had to stop myself listing them point by point in a caveat to my agent.) It’s no longer my own, and that’s not only a letting go, but a letting in… It’s dangerous and scary and exposing.
But there’s more this time around. We’re all already grieving right now, aren’t we? So this is grief on top of grief. This time, when the world I’d written went ‘pop’, my escape hatch closed. I’ve lost the land at the top of the ladder I could climb when the news was all too much.
When you’re grieving, it’s tempting to try and seek out that intimacy in any way you can, knowing (but wanting to forget, each time grief strikes) that it will never be the same.
Starting a new project now is ill-advised. I’m tired. Burnt out. Other responsibilities are calling.
Besides, it won’t be the same. It mightn’t be less, but it won’t be those characters, that world. I dreamed of them. I breathed them. They fed me lines. In the shower, in the car, at the school gates. Anywhere I couldn’t easily write them down, the little bastards.
Now I’ll have to find new loves, write them wrong, dig my way out of one plothole and into the next. Rewrite, rehash, replot, rethink. Relive the frustration and then, with any luck, the limerence.
And then, when I’m finding my way with them, it’ll be time to revisit the old and I’ll rush back to that world I knew so well, with open arms and renewed energy.
Straighten the timeline, bend the arc, drop a hint.
Shift their table into the kitchen.
Make it rain.
Saying goodbye is hard. Starting again is harder. But I love it, all of it. And we grieve only because we love.