Depends what you mean by “done”

Word that I’m writing a novel is starting to spread.  It’s very exciting.  People are stopping me to ask when the book will be done, and when it will be on shelves.  The conversation usually runs something like this:

“Hey Val!  How’s the book going?”

“Slowly … but well!”

“Is it done yet?”

“Well,” I reply.  “Depends what you mean by ‘done’.”

“You know … is it finished?”

“It won’t be finished until it’s published.”

“Cool.  So, when’s it gonna be published?”

“When it’s done.”

From this a few things are obvious:

  1. I have the most patient, supportive friends and family in history,
  2. I’ve spent far too much time writing media lines for politicians, and
  3. I’m a perfectionist. (What can I say?  It’s the Virgo in me.)

I once bought an audio book entitled “Write a Novel in 9 Weeks.”  It was a long time ago.  I was in high school and listened to the cassettes on my bright yellow Sony walkman.  After nine weeks, all I had was a relatively flimsy outline.

In the twenty-something years since then, I have had the pleasure of meeting many writers – some professional, some aspiring and some still in the closet.  We all have a different definition of what it means to finish a novel.  Some burn through a first draft in three months and proudly proclaim that they are done.  And rightly so.  Getting to the end of the last chapter is no small feat.  Mind you, they still have a year or two of rewriting ahead of them.

Using this definition, I was “done” ages ago.  Alas, the perfectionist in me won’t allow me to say that I’m finished just yet.  And so, the bottle of champagne that I have downstairs – the one with the words “the end” taped to it – will have to wait.

I can crack out a rough draft of a chapter in a few hours – but it looks a lot like the flimsy outlines I wrote in high school.  I think I’d croak if anyone read it.  I need to spend a few weeks (sometimes months) massaging it before it starts to take shape.

I want to have a solid version by November 30, 2012 – something that is worthy of submitting to the Percy Janes First Novel Award competition. But let’s face it, I’ll keep tweaking it after that.  There will come a time when a publisher yanks it from my hands, refuses to accept any more of my edits, and sends it to print.

So when will my book be done?  When it’s published.

When will it be published?  When it’s done.

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