Finishing the writing of any book is a curiously mixed experience. There’s a sense of achievement and even a muted delight because you finally got there. But there’s also hideous doubt, because although you got there, you’re no longer sure if it’s as good as it seemed when you exuberantly wrote ‘Chapter One’ about a year earlier. You’re also struggling to see a resemblance between the finished product, and the original synopsis your editor and your agent liked so much. You remember the famous line about characters: “You do everything you can to raise them right, and as soon as they hit the page, they do any damn thing they please.”
Still, when you come to the last page, the euphoria means that you can forget the bad parts of writing the book. Or can you? There was the time you deleted an entire chapter by mistake, and had only the fuzziest recollection of what it was all about. You knew it included blackmail, seduction, and probably most of the crimes in the Newgate calendar, but as for who did what to whom… You had no idea. In the end you resigned yourself to never knowing who seduced, who blackmailed, and who did anything else, and you re-wrote the whole chapter. You almost managed to persuade yourself it was better than the deleted section, too.
Then there was the time when you spent the best part of a week frantically trying to think of a motive for a particular action which was vital to the entire plot. You certainly remember that, because you paced the floor (you even cleaned the floor at one point), tried out solutions ranging from vaguely unlikely to utterly implausible, crossly discarded them all, and decided to give up writing altogether. At around 3 a.m. (insomnia being an inescapable by-product at this stage of a book), you suddenly saw a really good motive – and then found, on opening your original synopsis/ plot notes, that you had worked out that very solution a year earlier, before even starting to write the book.
Even sending the book to your agent and editor wasn’t free from trauma, because the printer broke down on the very morning of printing the ms, necessitating a frantic rush to various computer shops to buy a new one and then an entire day trying fathom how it worked. When you finally did get it operating, at the end of the print run the entire ms slid off the desk and scattered itself everywhere. That entailed crawling around the floor, fielding 200+ out-of-sequence pages, and shuffling them into order. Inevitably, it took longer than it should have done, because you found yourself reading bits you had forgotten writing, and having to read on to find out what happened next. You then found a continuity error – characters knowing, and acting on, events before the events had actually happened. So you had to comb the entire text to put that right, then print the whole thing all over again.
At this point, you decided to write all future books by longhand. After all, the great Victorian novelists did that. Then you remembered the length of some of their books (Bleak House inevitably came to mind), and changed your mind.
But once the ms was shovelled off to your agent and your editor, you felt entitled to a few indolent days. Undemanding TV, reading other authors’ books, meeting friends ignored for the last six months. First, though, you tried to wind down by determinedly tackling some of the tasks you had been able to put off on the grounds of being too busy. Defrosting the freezer for instance. That was when you discovered how many things you had forgotten to label. But you optimistically assumed that the plastic tub of pale viscosity in a forgotten cryogenic corner was home-made soup, which would be just right for an inclement January day. It turned out to be lemon mousse, (which you then remembered you had made for a long-ago meal at which you wanted to impress someone). You found out that lemon mousse does not take kindly to being heated.
That was when you decided it would be more restful to return to the desk and start writing another book.