I finished the first draft of a new novel at the weekend, and fought off the flat, empty feeling by taking myself out for lunch to celebrate. At the end of a book I always feel a bit depressed - I want to be back with the characters and in that wonderful state of discovering what's going to happen next in the story. Believe me, as the author, I'm the last one to know!
Anyway, I finished the first draft, and gave myself a pat on the back and a nice lunch, and the manuscript will be left fallow for a little while before I start the rewrite. Amazing what new ideas and insights come into play when it's been left alone for a while.
I think celebrating every milestone in writing is important: the first draft, completing a novel, sending off a short story, winning a competition. It's easy, as time goes on and the writing credits pile up, to take it all for granted, but one thing about writing is that it's uncertain. You never know definitely that you'll ever have anything published again. When I was a new writer, and sending work out was a Big Thing, I used to be so frightened of putting the manuscript in the post box that I pretty much hyperventilated. I used to hold the package in the slot, wish it luck on it's way (out loud, to the amusement of passers-by), and cross my fingers as I let it drop.
I don't hyperventilate when I post off work now (at least not as much) and I rarely wish my manuscript bon voyage or cross my fingers. But I do take time to acknowledge that there's another story on it's way; another story I've crafted and rewritten and stamped on and cursed at and rewritten again and again until I think it deserves an outing in the world. Sometimes it's just a moment when I think about the story and say to myself, 'Well done for finishing it.' Sometimes I have a little treat - a walk in a beautiful place, a poke round a junk shop, or a manicure.
Celebrating the conclusion of this latest first draft was a big deal for me, as a few months ago I thought the novel wouldn't get written at all. I normally take about a year to write a novel, end to end, but this one has been on the go for about eighteen months. Why? Because I caught flu five months in and was out of action for weeks, and have been pretty ropey since then. When I returned, eventually, to the manuscript I was part way through, I realised I didn't know my victim well enough, and I hadn't got a clue what made the murderer tick. It needed a complete overhaul: new scene outlines, new character sketches, a few red herrings to keep people guessing, and a subplot or two.
It was a while before I could face starting again, but I did, and the first draft was - eventually - finished. I learned a lot from having to start again, to rip up what I'd written and rethink the whole blessed book. And that's worth celebrating.
Kim Fleet lives and works in Cheltenham. Her two cats help the creative process by standing on the delete key.