Wednesday, December 03, 2014

What Completion Feels Like

Sunday was frantic. I had been out for most of the day Saturday, picking up books for the kids' Yule gifts as well as hitting up the yarn store. I try to make sure I hit our local businesses for Small Business Saturday so they can feel the love. But in the back of my mind, a little voice was screaming 'GO HOME WOMAN AND WRITE. I only wrote about a thousand words Saturday sneaking onto the computer in the little in between moments. We went out that night, and I tried to relax. Tried to look at books. Tried to knit but that voice wouldn't shut up. I paced a lot, recording in my mind my final scene. And I did go home to type until exhaustion drove me to bed. Thus Sunday after our weekly brunch (and for a bit before) I started. I wrote for ten fucking hours. When I wrote my last sentence: "I don't know if was him peeking through that veil or the painkillers but it felt like a benediction." I was so tired that I didn't even feel celebratory. I just felt like I needed sleep; like I might never want to write again. And then I felt restless, as if there should be more feeling. After all I had just finished my first novel. I wrote almost 97, 000 words in a month. I had "won" National Novel Writing Month by the 15th but I won my own goal on the 30th around 11:00 at night.

I'm not good for the long haul in most things. There were times honestly when I worried about being married, about being a mother because of this thing that I saw as a distinct character flaw. My teachers used to say I lacked "follow through." Indeed, I admit it honestly, it's always been hard for me to sustain interest in one thing for too long. I did two majors in college and a minor for which I suspect I had enough credits to be a major if they had offered one in Women's Studies. I managed to finish my MA but I'm convinced that was because my adviser made me do it. Last year when I decided to do NaNoWriMo, I knew there as no way I could do a novel so I did short stories and played around with the idea that I ended up taking up again this year. It was all part of my need for short projects. Even my knitting reflects this: hats, mitts, baby things. I've been whining about the sweater I've been knitting for Rowena whose is four and not big for months: "It's never going to end...."

I realized years ago that I place a lot of worth on the moment of finishing. When I lost a a shit ton of weight after being pregnant with Piper, I remember hitting my goal weight, and feeling really let down. I don't know what I expected to happen. Balloons and confetti I guess. This was the same thing that happened when I finished my MA. All this time spent towards the completion of a goal lead towards one moment that didn't live up to the imaginings I created of that moment. I always felt like a kid after opening up your Christmas presents. All that hype for maybe fifteen minutes of excitement.

When I decided to write this novel for November, I remembered both my past failures at going for the long haul, and the fact there's not always "satisfaction in a job well done." People always forget to tell you that sometimes there's a  depressing dip when things are completed as well. But I was determined to prove to myself that I could write a novel. After all I had dreamed of doing this for my most of my life. I needed to know that I could sustain a story for more than few pages. I told myself as I started that it didn't have to be good; it just had to get done.

As I wrote, I roller coasted through a variety of emotions. Days when I was in the valley looking up and knowing that the exhilarating climb was coming followed by days when the descent was wildly coming up to crash in my face. I wrote through self doubt, and frankly hate: hate for my story, hate for my talent. I pushed through my own snobbery at what counted as "good" writing including engaging in numerous debates with H (he arguing against the snobbery). I had to examine my own sense of weird self-worth: you should be writing the "good" stuff and you suck as a writer no one is going to read your bad stuff. I wrestled with the guilt that told me I should be using my writing time to blog about: racism, sexism, disability. While I wrote, I participated in a community of wonderful writers who gave menplot pointers, helped me through tangles, and shared in the delicious chaos that is NaNoWriMo.

When it was over, and I sat reading my last sentence, I realized that old feeling was coming. "You did it," this voice hissed, "and now what? Who cares? What a let down!" H decided we should do a celebratory ride through town to look at the Christmas lights, and as we drove, I struggled with the let down. I held onto the planning for the second novel. I thought about all the things I could do again: knit and read (okay and clean). But it didn't help. I sank into a kind of sadness. I bought a bag of candy and over indulged something I haven't done for a couple of months now. Luckily the nature of this season saved me from myself, and I was soon caught up in the business of things to do.

This morning as I was taking my shower, I thought about the two paragraphs to this post that I had written the night before. I had a total revelation as often happens to me when I'm showering (I'm convinced it's because there is no way to I can write anything down). The whole point isn't the end. It's the process. It's why little Ms. No Follow Through has been married for almost 15 years, and has five kids she hasn't abandoned. You see being in this family, my family, has always been about the process. There's no end to parenting or being a partner to someone. Things change, and evolve requiring multiple ways of addressing, being, and becoming. None of us are the same as we march through time, and being a parent to five very distinctive individuals has hammered this fact home. But I had never though to apply this philosophy to things like writing, or studying or reading.  When I really thought about the month, it wasn't about that one moment although it was a good feeling to meet my goals, rather it was the compilation of all those days, the doubts, the perfect sentences, falling in love with a character, having characters transform or insert themselves into your story no matter how hard you try to kick them out. It was the sprints with new friends at coffee shops, messages back and forth with problems, that one guy who saved my romance story.

When I thought back over my life, and the disappointment about completion, I realized that I had forgotten about the process. My MA did not just appear (sometimes I wish that was so). No, I wrote and anguished. I talked and learned. I made a good friend in my adviser. I had wonderful classes. I had wonderful conversations with H over theory. I meet some fascinating people. When I lost the weight, I learned a lot about myself and how I used food as a drug. I learned how to think about food in new ways, ways that actually enhanced my enjoyment of eating. And so it was with my novel. And so it is with all my writing. I am proud of my little book. Proud of what I accomplished. But what I will remember is the ride.


John B-R said...

Many congrats on finishing your novel, Ginger. As someone who's finished books and other longterm projects a number of times there's always a little grief after finishing, in saying goodbye. But one learns to live with it. And you are absolutely right that it's about the process. Writing is all process. Otherwise it wouldn't end in ing!

Again, congrats.

Ginger Stickney said...

Thanks John. It's funny but I don't feel as attached to this piece as I do my more memoir type writings. I wrote it with all intentions of it being what it is: a paranormal mystery type book. There are certainly deeper elements but this one was mostly fun. I still struggle with feeling a bit guilty over the self-indulgence of it all.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, I've also struggled to stick at anything for long and get depressed when I do complete things. Reading this gave me comfort that I am not alone and hope that I can learn to enjoy the journey instead of pinning my hopes on the destination. Thank you.