The Finish Line

There are so many ways to say something has come to an end, each with its own nuance. Kaput. Conclude. Terminate. C’est fini. C’est bien fini. No más.

Finale, grand or otherwise.

The end of a war is always a good thing, the end of a life dependent on the circumstances.

Coming to the end of a novel one is writing feels more akin to a whimper than a bang.  Even before the final words are set down, an air of urgency kicks in. Almost there. I can see the light eking into the tunnel. A novel is a world constructed with heart and mind, populated with individuals drawn from flesh and blood. Readers who know the writer may see resemblances, hear echoes, their own transaction with the fiction.  Readers who know nothing about the writer may ask how much is true, autobiographical.  What we take away from a story is intertwined with what we bring to it.

Many years ago I ran the New York City Marathon. A friend of the family sent a note: ‘Congratulations on making it to the finish line. That kind of experience lasts a lifetime.’  A dear cousin finagled her own celebratory surprise at a family Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks later. It was 1981, a good ten years since I’d left the fold, single in the city now,  where Thanksgiving had evolved into a friends’ affair. This year, my cousin insisted, was for family. I could do that, change things up a bit.  Score one for nostalgia and family get-togethers. Score another point for sentiment, the cake she had for me, two candles, the numbers 2 and 6. My mother had her own surprise, my marathon photo laminated and set in a frame alongside the program listing each runner’s time, 3:48:57 for me. Some numbers you never forget, down to the second.

Running a marathon, like writing a novel, is an accomplishment, indeed. But momentum, more than the distant goal, is, for me, the driving force, which is why I confess to being a little surprised when I’m congratulated. I ran. I write. It’s what I do. Not that I’m anything but grateful for the woohoo!  It makes me stop and take stock.

“I have a book in me,” people so often say. “If I only I could sit down and write it. “Of course, those of us who write know there’s much more to it than sitting down. With a novel especially, there are characters with me day and day out, a life of their own, cuing me to their next move. Waiting to jump off the page. Days go by, distractions take hold, weeks pass, other obligations get in the way, then months, maybe years,  later a novel nears completion.

Now what do I do?

And maybe that’s the point here.  Let others revel in my accomplishment while I immerse myself in the day-to-day revelations I look to each morning, today the first snowstorm (putting aside the Halloween surprise) of the season.  I’ll start by weeding through the files and clippings that never made it into the novel even if they gave some insights to character and place.  Then I’ll read through the novel, one more time, before I watch it take flight, hopefully landing (sooner than later) on the desk of an editor who simply can’t put it down once he/she starts reading. Knowing that the more likely scenario will be a a bumpy ride, swells and dips, hanging on to words of praise as if I’d been handed a major award, reading between the lines of those ‘encouraging’ rejections (an oxymoron?) in the hope that I might glean something — anything — to keep me from falling down.

12 thoughts on “The Finish Line

  1. “A novel is a world constructed with heart and mind, populated with individuals drawn from flesh and blood. Readers who know the writer may see resemblances, hear echoes, their own transaction with the fiction.”

    and

    “What we take away from a story is intertwined with what we bring to it.”

    and

    “With a novel especially, there are characters with me day and day out, a life of their own, cuing me to their next move. Waiting to jump off the page.”

    You are so talented, Deborah. Your writing touches me, both comforts and challenges me. Inspires me.

  2. I could never run a marathon, so first of all, kudos for having done that.
    Yes, I guess the thing that comes to mind as I read your post is to fly, but wear a helmet and knee pads!

  3. I find endings frustrating and often unfulfilling, both in writing and in reading. I suppose it does all come down to process, not product. There’s always just a bit of post-party letdown once you’ve reached the end.

  4. Deborah, first off, wohoo! And then bravo!
    I remember when I crossed the finish line in the figurative marathon. It was Sept. of ’99. Broken Angels, a fait accompli. When the last line was written, I knew it was complete. That moment of euphoria. Then, what’s next?
    Congratulations on having finished the race. I hope your novel finds a good home in the right publisher’s hands.

  5. I used to think that I could never run a marathon, and then events in my life over the past year make me realize I could someday, if I ever get off my behind, which I suppose is what most people think about writing. But it’s not just that, as you say. There is more to writing than sitting in the chair, just as there’s more to running than putting one foot in front of the other.

    Kudos to you on doing both.

  6. Deborah, I can’t help but first notice the expressions of the men you are leaving in the dust during the race. The one the left in the purple is saying, “Hey, Frank, where the hell do you think she’s getting that kick right now?” The one of the right in red is saying, “Wow, that chick has it goin’ on!” I say, “Way to go! Woohooo!”

    I like how you compare writing and running (something I can relate to), and the momentum necessary for reaching the proverbial finish line. But more importantly, the “Now what do I do?” I think many of us feel that way once we’ve accomplished a goal. After a tiny bit of recovery and relaxation, in my mind moving forward is the only option for staying fresh and inspired.

    Here’s to the next phase and to your next finish line! I’m still in awe of your Shoes, Hair, Nails gold medal finish. I can only image how wonderful your novel is! Your writing never ceases to inspire me!

  7. So before I even read this post, I was in tears, knowing you had finished your novel and feeling so ding-danged (I wanted to say “damned”) proud of you–not even a hint of jealousy–just admiration, pride, love, and hugs (apparently this is National Hugging Day? someone told me).

    Well now to find out that we have a marathon in common (I too remember my exact numbers–indelible as they are). I was 30, and beginning to face the demise of a relationship–the marathon was my way of giving what I didn’t have left for a little bit longer (the year I took to train).

    You know I anxiously await your book, and will read it eagerly.

  8. It is important to acknowledge a milestone and those woohoo’s are a good reminder to do just that, acknowledge an achievement before the head goes back down to continue its forward momentum.

    So well done for reaching a significant milestone and bonne continuation!

  9. Deborah, I never ran a marathon, but my nephew ran it last year and my brother and his wife before last year had run it for many years. I know the excitement you might have had when you got to the finish line and your time is really good!! I also know what it is like to get to the end of your novel and realize this is it. I always put it away for awhile, because you are so elated you just want to celebrate. Then I take it out a month or two later and start revising.

    Right now I am in the process of getting a novel ready to submit again. This is a very terrifying experience for me, since it took so long for my first novel to be accepted and I don’t want to go through the rejections I had to face then now that I have a published book. I know it’s vain, but it’s all the work involved and all the years it took to make it happen.

    Great post, by the way.

  10. I’ve been working on a proposal for my memoir and that is a feat in and of itself. I can’t imagine how long it’ll take to write the actual book. Yikes. So, I am seeing first hand, that it is way more than just sitting down to write. The proposal haunts me wherever I go!

  11. Hi Deborah,

    Congrats on nearing/reaching the finish line. Do you find that when you finish a large undertaking, that you feel grief? I do, for sure. Something that has been a part of you for so long, is finished. It is alive but at the same time, it is no longer as you’d known it. Make any sense? Be well, Melissa

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