Bittersweet

After a multi-year hiatus–peppered with rare, stolen moments of work–and half a year of concentrated effort, I’ve finished the rough draft of my speculative novel, NIGHT GARDEN.

Emphasis on the word “rough.”

A quick glance at my Track Changes application shows 119 comments sprinkled throughout the manuscript, indicating spots where I need to weave in world-building elements, affirm timelines, research further, fill in creative pits, and shore up plot points and character motivations. In addition, I have notes scrawled on napkins, sermon notes, and Post-Its–whatever I could grab before the thought fled.

Then there are the two notebooks (including one of those ultra-sexy yellow-pads) full of the most poorly organized notes imaginable.

I’ve got just a wee bit of work to do before this baby’s ready for prime time.

Still, it’s a major accomplishment, just completing the beast. I typed 112,632 words. I wrote 35 chapters. I hit the point where I could legitimately pen that final flourish: “The End.”

I should be skipping. Dancing. Celebrating with a glass of wine.

Instead, I’ve got this bittersweet sensation I can’t quite place. Perhaps it’s mourning over the end of a season–the close of that time of pure creation, yielding to the next, analytical step of editing. Perhaps it’s the strange alchemy of seeing what you’ve dreamed for years transfigured into artistic reality upon the page.

Perhaps its nerves, wondering how that reality will measure up under review. Did I truly bring my characters to life? Invoke that eerie, engrossing atmosphere I envisioned? Does the story grip the imagination, the heart?

Here’s the truth: no work of art ever meets the artist’s expectations. I’ve never completed a painting or piece of fiction and felt it fully embodied my vision, despite the hours/months/years I’d poured into “perfecting” it.

“Were you happy when you painted these pictures…? And you felt self satisfied with the result of your ardent labours?”


“Far from it. I was tormented by the contrast between my idea and my handiwork: in each case I had imagined something which I was quite powerless to realise.”

Mr. Rochester and Jane,
Charlotte Brontë’s JANE EYRE

But no matter how many times we walk away disquieted, we can’t help returning. The love of creating pulls us inexorably back, even when the process leaves us unsettled and perhaps a little heartbroken.

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