Right after I type the last period at the end of the last sentence of each of my novels, my fifth now, I stare at that sentence for a long time and wonder whether the novel is really, really finished, and I mean done, and if so how in the world did I manage to pull off another novel of 300 or 400 plus pages, manage to, day after day and year after year, drag my tired backside to a tired chair in front of my tired laptop to coax a story out of heaven knows what creative well, to connect the story-lines, the dates, the historical facts, mold believable characters with their own unique voices, I hope, who possess profundities worthy of sharing with readers. And then, my neurotic voice gravelly with doubt, I tell my husband that I might have finished my novel and how about going out to celebrate.
TIP #1: Pretend that you believe that it is indeed the end. Hug your spouse with great enthusiasm and excitement. Proclaim your respect and admiration for her having had the tenacity and perseverance to duke it out. Tell her how you’ve noticed her slumping in the writer’s chair, face mirroring her protagonists thoughts and emotions, how you’ve felt her pain with every tap of those tapered fingers on the keyboard, the many years of writing and rewriting, the weight of looming deadlines, no one could handle this torture as gracefully as she does. Yes. Congratulations are in order. Let’s celebrate.
We don celebratory attire, something slimming for me, suit and tie for him, drive to our favorite neighborhood restaurant and ask for our regular table, far from the jazz band with the blowing horns and ear-splitting drums, order Macho Salad, dressing on the side, hamburger, no cheese, a baked potato with nothing on it, a glass of buttery Chardonnay and a Cabernet, extra dry, please. We raise and click glasses, “Lechaim, to life! Another book!” By the way, according to a wise friend, we click wine glasses to include our sense of hearing when enjoying wine, which automatically involves four of our senses—smell, taste, sight, and touch—but not our sense of hearing. The musical ring of glass against glass takes care of that.
TIP #2: Brag to the waiter and to the people at the surrounding tables about how proud you are of your spouse having finished a veritable masterpiece. Order a round of drinks for everyone you bragged to. Never underestimate the power of shared celebrations. Say you’re already planning a book signing party, “So, so wonderful, nobody will believe it, really, nobody at all.”
I take a sip of wine, fall silent, that party-spoiler-of-a-shriek erupting, like stinking sulfuric lava, inside my tired skull: “Hah! Finished? That’s what you think. Enjoy your wine, you fool, but no book is finished until it’s snatched out of your hands and the pages bound eternally between hard or soft covers. And that, my dear, is an entirely different matter.”
TIP #3: Have an exit strategy ready. Always! You must have enough experience by now to expect that sudden change of mood, to recognize that flash of doubt sweep across your beloved’s face, the ghosts of unresolved literary problems that are known to haunt neurotic writers. They exists, they really do, these merciless ghosts. Change the subject, gossip shamelessly, tell your spouse how mad you are about her, lie if you have to, say you went hunting for a birthday gift, even if her birthday is in ten months and to make it easy on yourself you get her the same gift year after year, anything to snap her out of her darkening mood. (Good luck with this.)
The next morning, I’m back at my laptop. My husband peers in through the door: “But you told me you finished your novel.” Anger wells at the disappointment in his voice. I wonder if I should explain that I have, but maybe not quite, whether I should end the story here or there or on the previous page, add another paragraph or not, or turn everything upside down and start with the ending. I wonder if I should explain that I never know the ending of my novels until I get there. And I like it like this. I like the element of surprise, like that my characters have a say in the trajectory of their fate. I like the sense of wonder, not unlike a first bite from an exotic fruit. In the end there’s a senseless shrug and angry silence. No point in explaining the battle in my head, the ups and downs, and the constant doubts, the ever-present cacophony of that party-spoiler-of-a-shriek that turns into a cyclonic headache. No point explaining because only neurotic writers understand why despite all the inexplicable madness, we keep dragging our tired backsides to our tired chairs in front of our tired laptops to, once again, type that first sentence that we hope, no, are certain, very, very certain, will go down in the annals of history for millenniums to come as an exemplary hook of a sentence to open a novel with.
TIP #4: Do not, and I warn you, do not ever start a sentence with: “But you told me…” or the ire of Satan and his hoard of disciples will befall upon your ignorant head. Pretend you never heard the word “finished” and that last night’s celebration was a great success, a prelude to many others. Who are you kidding? You, of all people, must know by now that along the way there will be more celebrations, a few real, most of them not, until your spouse either gives birth to that Great American Novel, or takes one last painful breath and dies at childbirth. Your responsibility, my friend, is to stand steadfast by your beloved’s side and remind her that what matters is the journey, even if you and everyone else on this planet knows that this is a pure, and I mean a real pure, stinking bull of a lie. And don’t you dare feel sorry for yourself, when you’ve no one to blame but yourself. You did marry a neurotic writer, after all, so be a man or a woman, tighten your cravat or brassiere, and work hard to put bread on the table, or those books will drain every last penny left at the bottom of your coffer.