Tonight I read the ending of my newly-completed novella, "The Hunt," out loud at the Nebraska Writers Workshop. There's something amazingly satisfying about reaching the end of a good story. And something even more satisfying if it's the end of one of YOUR stories. Now that's not to say I'm finished, there are still edits, submissions, and in this case, a screen treatment of the manuscript to undertake.
I don't quite know how to explain the rush of emotions that a writer goes through with the completion of a mansucript. When I wrote "THE END" on the page, I was sitting in a conference room at Mahoney State Park, as part of the NWW fall retreat. I plowed my way through the big climactic fight scene, and tied up all the loose ends before centering my cursor for those final two words. "THE END". So final. The picture that comes into my head is the end of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. "Ebeday, ebeday, ebeday, that's all folks." Cue the target circles closing, and the Looney Tunes theme song.
You'd think the first thing I would do would be to spring from my chair and proclaim to the world my triumph. After all, I was in a conference room with a group of WRITERS. People who understand the strange affliciton of those posessed by a story, unable to yield to anything but the drama unfolding within our mind, until the words have poured themselves from the soul and onto the page.
But I sat there, starting in shocked silence at the words in front of me. "THE END." I've grown attached to these characters. I've dreamt their dreams, spoken their words, heard their thoughts. And now it's finished. I like these people, and a part of me feels like I've lost my best friends. I know by those two little words on a page, I'll never view the world through these characters' eyes quite the same again.
So, instead of wanting to jump from my seat and proclaim victory, I felt more like throwing up. An overwhelming sense of...loss. I think to be a good writer, you need to love your characters so much that you do mourn the fact that starting now, you won't be spending all of your time with them anymore.
So, I sat there, in my chair and stared off into space for a while, choked back some tears, then on October 16th, at 4:13 pm typed, "First draft of 'The Hunt' is FINISHED" onto my facebook page. At 4:19, fellow NWW writer and friend Rhonda Hall types back, "Yeah, I'm sitting next to you, and this is how I find out?"
It's an odd thing how we writers give birth to our stories. Sometimes, we're yelling and screaming to the rafters. Sometimes, the peck of computer keys is all we can get out. It actually took a few deep breaths before I could announce it to the assembled room full of writers.
A couple weeks have passed, and I've taken some time to rewrite portions of the story. There is still much work to be done. Polishing the gem takes a much gentler hand than mining the raw stone. I think of editing as "head work," and the first draft as, "heart and soul work." Tonight I read the ending aloud at the NWW meeting. It's nice to hear a collective sigh of satisfaction as my fellow writers appreciate the end of a journey as well.
Another of the retreat writers, the wonderfully talented Aaron Lloyd, read the ending of his novel right before me. His journey with the characters of his novel has taken him over two years. That's about the length of four Hollywood marriages. Before we entered into the meeting room to share our endings, we talked a little bit. For both of us, there was some trepidation, a sense of "Now what?" A lot of joy, and a little sadness, as we send our babies out into the world to stand on their own, to sink or swim on their own merits.