Finally, I’m a Finisher (or, Holy Heck, I Wrote a Trilogy)

Book's last pages

Although Sag loves the thrill of a new project or friendship, you don’t always finish what you start. Work on keeping your promises and commitments.

(Source: http://astrostyle.com/sagittarius, among many others.)

~

I’m not a follower of astrology or other form of pop culture personality typing, but sometimes, it seems, these systems follow me.

I was born under the astrological sign of Sagittarius.  People of this sign are said to highly gregarious, to have an incurable wanderlust, and also to be notoriously distractible – to the point that they rarely complete what they start.

Even though I’ve never felt I embodied any of these hallmark Sagittarian traits, the presence of the last one in the above list has always caused me some distress.

Sagittarius, by Yuhon

Sagittarius, by Yuhon

To the point that, when I heard there was supposedly a thirteenth astrological sign that caused the dates for all the existing signs to shift backwards, I took that – plus the fact I was born almost on the cusp of the previous sign in the twelve-sign system – as justification to start telling people I’m a Scorpio, which I already better identified with.

And which doesn’t accuse its membership of being non-finishers.

I admit that’s a lot of angst and deception associated with something I don’t even go along with.  I probably wouldn’t have even given this astral assertion a backward glance if the notion of leaving things unfinished didn’t show up so frequently in other typologies of mine.

Years ago, a friend of mine had a huge hardback tome the size of an old school phone book called The Secret Language of Birthdays.

In this book, every day of the year was classified according to a supposedly key characteristic of people born on that day.  Each day was also given a unique title.

Scorpio

Scorpio, by Yuhon

My birthday, November 25, was called “The Day of the Sustained Effort”.

Ostensibly, this is a good thing, for it claims I have the patience, fortitude, and dedication to persist through a lengthy endeavour.  But with that also comes the implication of not finishing things – of continually working towards an end that never comes.

The same goes for my Myers-Briggs type, which we use at work.  My type, ISTJ, aside from apparently being the type no one wants to date, is said to be a studious, meticulous, long-term type of worker … again with the subtext that things are not actually getting done nor genuine progress being made.

There’s absolutely no reason I should allow this contention to haunt me so.  I’ve successfully achieved many things in my life: I’ve graduated from university; I’ve run a half-marathon; I regularly meet deadlines at work; I start and finish reading a different book every month.

But the one thing that really mattered to me – the one thing I wanted to be able to say I’d done yet hadn’t – was complete a novel-length work of fiction.

Written in the stars (and then, just written)

I’d previously tried: my first (incomplete, shelved) novel was such a disaster, I abandoned it exactly one page and one chapter from the end.

Surely that was just a fluke, I told myself.  My bottom-drawer, practice novel; every writer has one.  I would actually finish my next novel, which, little did I know at the time would actually take three novels to tell the entire story.  I started writing and got more or less to the end of book one.

And then proceeded to quit writing for the next six years.  Intentionally.

In other words, I was fully prepared to not finish.

Fast forward to 2012 and the decision to reclaim by role as a writer.  I re-taught myself how to string a compelling sentence together.  I re-read and re-researched everything I’d previously learned and then forgotten about 13th century English, where my unfinished story was set.

And then I resumed writing.

And wrote some more.

And some more after that.

I freely  acknowledge that I’m a slow writer; empires rise and fall in the time it takes me to complete the draft of a single chapter.  I console myself in this by recognizing that I thankfully have excellent discipline: I show up at the page on schedule; I twist and bend my life like a caterpillar evading capture to accommodate that schedule; I tell my muse that whether she deigns to grace me with her presence or not the party is starting regardless.

But as months turned to years; as more than one New Year’s resolutions to finish the story that year went unfulfilled; as friends and family who’d never even cared before started asking, “When are you going to finish that book?”, even my daily discipline started to look a lot like just not finishing.

Like I would never finish – like I’d bitten off way more than I could chew in trying to write a trilogy when I still hadn’t even succeeded in writing something standalone – and that everything I’d read about my type over the years was true with me powerless to do anything to change it.

Until the day I took back my power with but two simple words that were anything but simple to get to:

“The End”.

~

It felt far less earth-shattering than I’d come to expect: the heavens didn’t open up and send down a choir of angels; I couldn’t call my mother to share the good news because of our stupid four-hour time difference; I still had to get up early to go to work the next day.

In the mirror, I saw nothing new in my reflection.

The end...

People finish novels every day; I know teenagers who have done it.  For someone who already does a lot of writing, it’s not even that big of a deal beyond how utterly long it took me to finally join the ranks because of course it was always going to happen.

I did in the days that followed experience a brief moment of surreal recollection that yes, I now had three manuscripts on my hard drive that I had created, and that I’d better backup the hell out of them.

But more than anything else, I just physically exhausted with the release of the most onerous type of emotional burden there is: the self-inflicted kind.

The start of something different

The Visit - Loreena McKennitA favourite recording artist of mine, Canadian-born Celtic-folk-world music singer Loreena McKennitt, in 1991, released an enchanting breakout album entitled The Visit.  In the liner notes of this release, McKennitt has the following to say regarding creativity:

I have long considered the creative impulse to be a visit – a thing of grace, not commanded or owned, so much as awaited and prepared for.  A thing, also, of mystery.  ”Who is this, and what is here?“….

In retrospect, these words strike me as encouraging and inspiring productivity far better than any self-induced fear and loathing about what and when the end product will be.

Creativity truly is a journey – one that takes as long as it takes with as many delays and detours and even cancelled legs as it takes.

For no destination truly marks the conclusion anyway, but instead opens yet another doorway, inviting yet another voyage into the unknown.

~

In other words, it’s not really “The End”, but merely an end, or just the end of the beginning.

Quite separate from da Vinci’s quote that “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, the title of this post is more properly named “Holy Heck, I Wrote a Trilogy in Draft”.

I ain’t finished hardly nothing, for I’ve now got revisions the size of my head to attend to, and I’ve never revised anything this long in my life.

A whole new journey is about to begin.

What is the most memorable project you’ve ever completed?  Let me know in the comments.

(Image source #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5)

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20 thoughts on “Finally, I’m a Finisher (or, Holy Heck, I Wrote a Trilogy)

  1. First and foremost – CONGRATULATIONS! YOU DID IT!

    Why the heck didn’t you polish and publish Book 1? For the same reason I didn’t: the story was not finished yet.

    It’s been fifteen years since I started writing Pride’s Children. I finished the rough draft so many years ago I’m not sure when. Then there was the Great Reorganization of 2007 (and yes, that’s capitalized, like the Great Wall of China).

    Then I started the revision/rewrite/editing/polishing of Book 1, and when I was 40 scenes in the hole, I added one a week (while writing like crazy) to my blog (created for that eventual purpose), just to have SOME outlet for my fiction.

    And now I’m doing what you will be doing not that long from now, depending on LIFE: getting ready to publish Book 1 of the trilogy (or all three, if you decide to wait). Basically, I have to finish the blurb/back cover copy/book description – and we’re good to go.

    I like that line ’empires rise and fall in the time it takes me to complete the draft of a single chapter,’ because I’m exactly like that. Possibly for different reasons, but who cares? If you’re slow, you’re slow. Wrong kind of mental fibers. I also have never been able to run comfortably – wrong kind of muscle fibers.

    But you’ve just completed your first marathon, and you must celebrate. Sending virtual champagne, and the sure knowledge that if you just keep going, you’ll get ‘there.’

    Remember to celebrate the heck out of each tiny milestone – you need something to keep you going.

    Like

    • Thanks, Alicia!

      Yes, I didn’t polish Book 1 because the story wasn’t finished. And also because, after having quit writing for six years, I was worried that going backwards would be just another instance of not finishing – that I needed to actually finish the entire story first to prove I actually could.

      I guess I can. 😉 I will be sure to heed you advice to celebrate tiny milestones. I’ve been slowly getting better about that in all areas of my life.

      Your Great Reorganization sounds ominous.

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      • The Great Reorganization, painful as it was, was necessary – I had the story, all three books, in rough draft – but it needed structural work.

        I had structure going in, but not enough experience to tighten it, to make each included scene count.

        The bonus for me: when I went to polish the rough draft almost everything had a place already – and the new structure (which also removed 3 of the 6 pov characters) really worked.

        I lost very little – and gained enormous amounts of interconnectivity between the three main characters who are fighting it out for survival. It was necessary, I did the work, it is much better.

        I could not have done it without going to the bitter end with the rough draft for all three – the complete story.

        You’ll be fine – but don’t be afraid of hard work. It’s worth it.

        Sending a case of virtual Champagne for the tiny victories, and Godiva virtual chocolate.

        Like

      • I’m sure your dedication and willingness to dig deep in your revisions has paid off. I too will strive to be as diligent, and will savour the cyber-treats you have given me each step along the way.

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    • You’re safe; it’s a word. Although I do still consider myself more of a Scorpio (Scorpion?).

      I’ve already sort of started, although I haven’t started in on the manuscript itself. I have a rather complicated backstory to re-imagine before I can I convert the first book, which was written as fantasy, into historical fiction. Currently, this involves determining everyone’s feudal relationship to everyone else, how old various characters were when key past events (both historical and fictional) occurred, and how to hand-wave away that one annoying, real-life figure whose presence in history is slightly counterproductive to my plot.

      Speaking of re-imagining, have you heard about Twilight?

      Like

      • This year marks the 10th anniversary of Twilight and in honour of that, Stephenie Meyer has released a new version of it called Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined in which the two main characters are gender-swapped. I find myself intensely fascinated by this, curious to see whether Meyer can create a convincing male protagonist who is vulnerable and, if applicable, how all the creepy, stalker-ish behaviour previously exhibited by Edward translates to a female character.

        Like

      • The cynic in me (the part of me that isn’t a nihilist) sees this as a money grab. But I’ll leave further discussion to the more open-minded and say that I hope her fans enjoy it. 😉

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  2. I am going to put all other discretionary pursuits aside and read your novel once it’s out there Janna. Your dedication deserves no less and, more to the point, it will be very good.

    As to your question I haven’t got your resolve and I’m a serial non-finisher.

    Oh and Myers-Briggs is (in my experience) a time and money waster, or else we just didn’t ‘get it’.

    Like

    • That’s a wonderful compliment, Roy, and someday I will look forward to sharing the finished product with you.

      I don’t necessarily think it a bad thing to be a serial non-finisher; to me, that just suggests those projects didn’t capture your imagination and passion strongly enough, so better to let them go and continue the search for the project that does.

      I actually found Myers-Briggs to be illuminating. We did it at work as I mentioned, and it really helped me to better understand my colleague’s work habits and processes and to realize they aren’t actually doing it on purpose to annoy me and disrupt my own processes – that that’s just the way they naturally operate (and likewise that my habits can be annoying to them too), and that we all can stand to bend a little to function more efficiently as a team.

      Like

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