What It Means To Finish
Last week I received word from my editor: on my end, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is complete.
Finished. Done. Complete. In the fall of 2005, I committed to writing a novel about a girl named Audrey. And now, in the fall of 2017, I have finally (FINALLY) finished the task and that story (albeit a very different version of it) is being sent to the printers and will be bound in hardback. What the hell. What the hell. A passion and task that has been in my life FOR LITERALLY HALF OF MY LIFE. What! What does my life look like without a draft of this book waiting on my desktop? What does it look like without the periodic reshuffling of index cards, the swapping an hour for an hour within the plot? What does it look like–a year where I don’t break my heart trying to understand Brooks as a character, all the while trying to reconcile my own teen romance?
What will I do with all of the new space in my mind?
(Continue to attempt to develop and write the three books blinking on my desktop).
And how do I feel having completed the book that has, in some capacity, been haunting me for over a decade?
While finishing my second round of proofreading, I finally let myself acknowledge the weight of this book. Finally, I came to terms with the fact that NLTB hurts. Reading it hurts. Writing it hurt. Revising it hurt. Working on that beast was akin to an intensive therapy session x 10. Perhaps it was self-preservation that I didn’t put a name to the particular ache that developed whenever I turned to work on it.
This book has done me good. This book has seen through my life, acting as a place to periodically return to and shed my skin. This book is a reminder of my life and growing up. Of being a teen. Of learning what it means to be honest. Understanding the weight of identities and how easy it is to take on a story that isn’t your own. I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being kissed for the first time and, later, the first strike of heartbreak.
I think of living up north in Humboldt County. I was nineteen and I hadn’t opened the manuscript in over half a year. A new document. It was raining in Humboldt but it was burning in Orange County. And, in the span of one hour, I wrote a new first chapter for NLTB: the morning after Audrey loses her virginity, waking to an evacuation. That first chapter has only been minorly tweaked since then, line edits, a paragraph cut and added. I felt something big after fast drafting that new chapter but I never could have guessed it’d stick as well as it did. I never would have imagined that new first chapter would inspire me to center the timeline around a wildfire and trash my original plot, along with what I was trying to say, along with Audrey’s boyfriend who was named Kevin and then named Luke, who then *became* Brooks–someone entirely new.
I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being curled up on my bedroom floor at fifteen, my first rejection beside me–a written letter, the last hardcopy rejection I’d receive. I think of those tender months after treatment, opening the document for the first time in nearly a year, terrified and thrilled. I think of being fourteen, a Friday night, at my family’s desktop with a Diet Coke, realizing that I preferred writing to social gatherings. I think of being thirteen in the bed when I still had that pink comforter. Thirteen, midday, in bed, half asleep, books stacked around me, the TV on in the background–Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–thirteen and typing furiously instead of completing my school work.
Thirteen and falling in love with writing for the first time.
This book, so small and quiet as it is, as grown alongside me.
It’s a gift that I didn’t realize the weight of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN until my final read. But perhaps that’s how it is, how it always will be: I won’t understand the pain of each book until I’m letting it go. And that’s the thing, I am finally ready to let Audrey and Brooks go. Finished. Done. I feel complete. It’s a strange thing. A year ago at this time I was diving back in for a significant revision, wondering how the hell I’d possibly be comfortable calling it done within the year.
Surprise. I’m more than satisfied and it’s bonkers surreal.
So how do I feel? I don’t feel much–I’m still processing, surely–but I know I feel grateful. Calm. Relieved. I feel utterly lucky that I have the opportunity to share this story, and to have a clear-cut line that calls it done. (I’m also a tad terrified that it will take me another decade to produce a second book but that’s both unfair, already proven inaccurate, and a post for another day.)
I’m free. Is that a bad way to feel? I don’t think so. I’m free. NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is no longer mine. It belongs to the reader. It belongs to the reader who finds herself in Audrey, in Brooks, in Grace. Or it belongs to the reader who doesn’t click with the story but maybe, maybe, gained something from it regardless–even if it’s a declaration of not being a fan of me and a slight fear of fire. I can say what I think NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is about but, in the end, now, it’s not for me to interpret.
I am so beyond happy, exhausted, relieved.
But, all of that said, cheers to fourteen-year-old me who finished the first draft of that first version, and–I think–would love how the story grew.
I’ve loved the development of this book (and, more than that, my development as a writer) an awful lot, growing pains and heart aches and all.