A few things about finishing a book draft

I did it. I finished a draft of a book on July 11, two Fridays ago and about ten days after my deadline.

I sent the draft to my friend, and skilled deadline enforcer, Erin at 4:23 p.m. (her words were, “I won’t even look at it after the fifteenth. So don’t bother.”), just in time to run, literally, to my appointment at the chiropractor. And then I came home and had a small celebratory beer and went to a baseball game.

At the game, I wondered if maybe I had arrived at one of those whole-life happiness apexes. I imagine you only get a few—if you are lucky—and most of the time you don’t notice you arrived at one until you have crested and are sinking back down to the grit of daily-ness. Finishing the draft, however uneven and full of holes it may be, felt like the most exciting thing I’ve done. I posted a note about it on Facebook and when I looked back at it while standing in line for the bathroom, I almost teared up from all the comments. (One should try not to cry in line for the bathroom at a baseball stadium on a Friday night. People get uncomfortable.)


I remember sitting around a table with friends two New Year’s Eves ago, having lemon cake and champagne before heading out. We all had big plans for 2013: people were getting married and finishing school and starting a new business. I said I would finish a book that year. The prospect seemed both unimaginable and inevitable; after three years, I had to finish it. But I only finished two thirds of a draft before getting mired in an awkward structure and an impulse to be very kind to everyone I was writing about. Instead of finishing, I bought a last minute flight to Texas where I could play Trivial Pursuit with very old friends and not think at all about writing.

So I sat in the stands at the baseball game, drinking overpriced beer on an empty stomach on the hottest day of summer so far, thinking, this could be it: the happiness apex. Because surely the part between completing a draft and getting (or not getting) a book published is fraught with demoralizing experiences. Not just the obvious rejections from agents or editors, but also the moment when you look over what you’ve completed and realize how far it still is from the shimmering, beautiful thing that you’ve spent so many years picturing. (I have not yet looked.) But I had baseball and beer, and later frozen yogurt and blueberries on the back porch while gossiping about the neighbors. I was happy. But then it has been well established that is remarkably easy to feel happy on a July night in the company of fresh blueberries and a handsome man.

What I have discovered in the days since completing the draft is that not only do I miss the daily writing—the stress of it and the purposefulness of it and the enormity of it—but that my thoughts still return to the book’s central questions. It doesn’t feel much like finishing. When I was writing about and researching love everyday, it was always on my mind, whatever I was doing—but mostly in a fairly-detached, fairly-rational way. I even found myself giving people advice about love, which feels pretty fraudulent since I don’t exactly have an impeccable history of good choices, but I know a whole lot about what others have discovered. And 2014 is the year of faking it, so maybe I am in the habit of fraud.

I suspect that anyone who has ever written a book (or a half-way thoughtful and somewhat honest book) has discovered that the entire proposition relies on fraudulence. I’ve also found that reading and writing so much about love has left me pretty cynical about the process, and distrustful of my own intuition (thanks to even the most basic knowledge of neurochemistry) and yet, nonetheless, weirdly hopeful. In other words, I have just enough knowledge to paralyze myself. I am too aware of all that can go wrong.

My dad came to visit a few days after I finished my draft. And what struck me as we talked about life and love was how much I wish I could arrange his life to be leisurely and effortless, to make him perfectly happy somehow. I don’t say this because I worry that he is unhappy, but because if anyone could be perfectly happy, I’d like it to be him.

A few years ago he told me that I deserved to be happy. I was waist deep in ambivalence about my relationship at the time, and I snapped at him and said I didn’t think love had much to do with deservingness. Then I wrote an entire book about how little love has to do with deservingness, despite the fact that all our stories imply that one equals the other. And now I look at my father and I want nothing more than to place him on a scale and pile the happiness on the other side. When it comes to love, I am always getting stuck on the wanting, even though I know better.

Lately, I’ve been wearing my mom’s wedding ring. I think I’m waiting for someone to say, “That’s a lovely ring.” And I’ll say, “Thank you. It’s my mom’s wedding ring.” It sounds incredibly mundane written out like that, but in my mind, the moment is revelatory somehow. Still, I’m not sure why anyone would comment on a thin silver band that appears so thoroughly unremarkable.

Actually, the ring is white gold, just barely the thickness of a nickel. And it is lovely, if you look close. The back of the band, the part people don’t see, is squarish—a couple millimeters thick and wide. The front of the band flattens into a ribbon. It’s thinner but wider, and the flattest part is crimped into a neat V-shape that nestles perfectly under the small marquis-cut diamond of the engagement ring. I don’t wear the diamond. It’s too obviously an engagement ring, just the kind a young sensible football coach buys for his very young, very sensible girlfriend.photo (2)

I wear the ring on the middle ringer of my left hand, where it fits best. Because my knuckles are so much wider than the rest of my finger, it still turns loosely. Several times a day I rotate it so the V is in the center. And then I hold my hand out in that distinctly feminine gesture of admiration. I like how smoothly it goes from square to flat, back to front, how the point of the V is, if you look down the barrel of the finger, the very widest part.

Sometimes I think I wear her ring because I want to be the person it promised I could. When I wear it, I feel virtuous—better than I actually am. With the band on my finger, it is easier, somehow, to trust in the way things are and worry less about the trajectory of my life and the lives of the people I love. When they exchanged vows, the cheerleader and the football coach imagined a very good, hard working, happy life for themselves. And even if what they imagined was only true for a while, it was true. It is a lucky thing to come from people who were so genuinely unburdened by cynicism. I like the ring’s promise of happiness. Even if that happiness was finite, I like knowing it happened.

3 thoughts on “A few things about finishing a book draft

  1. Yay! I’m sure I speak for all of us who got to see parts of the early draft that we *can’t wait* to see the book.

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