I have finished writing my novel. It’s the sort of sentence that sinks doom into the heart of every writer, while hopefully not their readers. Having a novel to write means that even when waking up late enough to make seizing tomorrow distinctly unlikely, you still have purpose. Finishing a novel, unless you’re being paid to, makes as much sense as cocaine in the shower; it might feel clever, but it’s just a soggy, expensive mess.
There’s nothing better than having something to do and not doing it. It’s the inspiration of Jerome K Jerome’s Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, who inspired this blog. Completing a novel means a few moments of internal celebration, a sort of awkwardly misjudged hi-five that thankfully no one is privy to, before the hollow realisation that you have, well, nothing to do. Obviously you send it out to as many agents/publishers who are foolish enough to find themselves googled by you, before realising the only consistency in the manuscript is the misspelling of ‘intripid’ and recall them all. You resend to what might as well be Deleteditems@publishinghouse.com
Like having a healthy hedge, or a healthy hedge fund, there is a huge difference between writing novel and writing a publishable one. Once completed, you are confronted with the reality that perhaps not telling your boss to fuck himself, and leaving work to cast the Hollywood adaptation would be advisable.
Writing a book is the mental shed that you can disappear into, potter around, even write some purple prose, or that steamy sex scene that’ll never make the final edit; of either the book or your life. With a novel on the go, you’re a novelist wherever you go, but once you finish. well, it’s just you and the blank page, and the sense that the first one was fluke. Amazing, how after 6 years, 20 FINAL edits, it’s been written drunk and edited sober and written sober and edited drunk, it’s needed a new ending requiring a new beginning (and middle), a lead character gender change, a writing course, the comments of 12 friends (1 of whom you are no longer speaking to), 3 relationships, 2 children and 2 Mini Coopers, yet it might still be considered a fluke, but such is the human psyche.
Mind you, at least unlike the french essayist Jean-Jacques Plachet, who was so desperate to finish his book that he shot himself in the foot with a hunting rifle to stop himself from wandering away from the desk, I have no scars, nor a limp to regret. While the Internet was a tempting distraction while writing, once you have nothing to do but indulge the internet, the attraction of Hedgehogs in Hats, or even Hot Girls doing the Splits, soon pales. Writing becomes an attractive distraction.
A novel on the go is a comfort blanket that validates all kinds of things, some of which aren’t staring into space. You can sit in cafes and pretend it’s Paris’ Left Bank outside, instead of London’s South Circular. You can people watch, and even answer dinner party enquiries about your vocation with a vague/detailed reply that you’re a novelist, depending on how closely the enquirer works in the publishing industry (or might know someone).
I remember a neighbour who used to own a Range Rover. When I say Range Rover, it was a metal lump; more protruding geological strata than a car. It was impossible to get into his house without squeezing past its rusting hulk. I’m unsure he even noticed anymore, but he could still claim to own a Range Rover. While you’re working on a novel, you can claim to be a novelist. Once it’s finished, its someone else’s, and you no longer have purpose. And there’s nothing worse than doing nothing because you have nothing to do, and I’m unsure reading publishers’ rejection slips counts.