The Most Bittersweet of Words

On the surface of it, the accomplishment should elicit nothing but joy.  So much work has been put in, so many hours spent, so many unexpected hurdles and twists and roundabouts have been navigated.  It should be a celebration on par with a holiday parade.

 

And yet . . .

***************

Recently, after three-and-a-half years of working on the manuscript, I finally completed the first draft of The Singularity Wheel.  The Singularity Wheel (which didn’t name itself until I was three-quarters of the way through the story) is the sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  It wasn’t necessarily planned.  When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I expected it to be a one-off, not the start of a protracted story arc that would need to span multiple books.

 

But one day, while taking a walk, an image popped into my head–just like that.  Snap-your-fingers fast.  I hadn’t been thinking of The Eye-Dancers on that walk.  I hadn’t been thinking about any of the characters, or anything related to the novel.  But there it was, and it was strong enough that I had to stop moving.  I just stood there, seeing it.  I blinked, shook my head.  The mental painting did not recede or fade away.  If anything, it clarified, coalesced, the blurred edges straightening and sharpening, the smaller details coming in to focus, as if caught under a magnifying glass.

 

There they were in my mind’s eye–Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski–the main characters of The Eye-Dancers.  Only, in this image, they were devoid of color.  Everything was.  The road they were standing on, the field behind them, rich with tall grasses swaying in the breeze–all was a monochrome, a black-and-white world drained of greens and oranges and yellows.  There was only gray.

 

They stood before a monstrous structure, easily the width of a dozen football fields and as tall as a skyscraper.  Each floor of the building had an exterior walkway and countless doors, all closed.  And somewhere, several stories up, they saw a gray, colorless man frantically roaming from door to door, trying to open them, desperate, as if in search of something lifesaving.

 

High above them, above the structure and everything else, the sky was gunmetal gray.  But then it changed.  Two eyes formed in the clouds.  They expanded until they blotted out the sky, became the sky–a deep, penetrating blue.  The image shifted, the picture moved, and the eyes slanted and darkened.  They were angry.  The boys shrank back, but there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to run.  They knew, as well as I, that those weren’t just anyone’s eyes.  They belonged to Monica Tisdale, the “ghost girl” from The Eye-Dancers.  After five years, she had come back for them.

 

Nothing else came to me that day, but it didn’t matter.  Something within me was urging me forward, letting me know there was a new story that needed to be told.  In the days that followed, gaps filled in, motives crystallized, story lines emerged.  A fortnight later, I sat down in front of my PC, opened an empty Word file, and keyed in the first sentence.

 

At the time, I couldn’t have known how difficult, or how long, the journey would be.  If The Eye-Dancers was “out there,” The Singularity Wheel was a million light-years away, spinning its threads from some far-off corner of the universe, regularly making me pause, rub my eyes, and ask, “Is there any way I can pull all of this together?”  The characters’ problems this time around were more nuanced, more complex.  Five years had passed since the conclusion of The Eye-Dancers.  They were about to enter their senior year in high school.  They were saddled with girl problems, family issues, worries about their future.  Some of them felt as though a continent had fallen on their shoulders.

 

But perhaps the character who had changed the most in five years was the “ghost girl” herself.  Unlike in The Eye-Dancers, in The Singularity Wheel, Monica is now a point-of-view character.  In fact, the sequel begins with her, in her bedroom, about to undertake a (quite literally) infinity-spanning trip across the layers and undulations of time and space.  And it will be a trip that puts her life–along with those of Mitchell, Joe, Ryan, and Marc–in peril.

Throughout the creative process–through the surges of “aha” moments, the flourishes of frenzied writing sessions on the dark side of midnight, the inevitable blocks that at times seemed to render the entire project null and void, and the incessant, nagging self-criticisms–the ending often felt far away, a high meadow lying beyond a range of towering mountain peaks.  But I forced myself to persist.

 

The only way I could, I discovered, was to focus on the now.  Sure, I needed to have an overall goal in mind, a general direction I was working toward.  But if I thought too far ahead, I would become bogged down, overwhelmed with the vast distances I still needed to traverse to reach the destination.  “One chapter at a time,” I said to myself, over and over.  “One scene at a time.  One paragraph at a time.”  I felt like a walking, living cliche, the coach who spouts off “coach-speak” to overeager reporters desperate for a scoop they wouldn’t get.  But it was the only way I could keep moving forward.

 

And when I got there, when, just the other night, I keyed in the bold, decisive words “The End,” I felt elated–for perhaps a minute.  And then I realized–I had been living with these characters, thinking with and through them, struggling along with them and cheering them on for over three years (almost eight, in fact, if you go all the way back to the start of writing The Eye-Dancers).  And while I still need to flip back to page 1 and undertake a full-book edit, and while I will blog about the characters and the sequel quite a bit in the weeks and months to come, the actual process of writing the story itself is over.

 

Writing a novel, particularly when there are stops and starts to the writing process, and when you can’t devote uninterrupted time to writing the book, is a marathon, a grueling exercise that tests an author’s will just as much, and probably more, than it does his or her imagination and storytelling abilities.  To finally arrive at “The End” is a tremendous relief, an event to celebrate.  And celebrate I did.  I popped some popcorn, fired up a DVD of a favorite movie (I am old school with digital entertainment!), kicked back, and enjoyed.  (I know, I’m a wild one, aren’t I, with the way I celebrate?)

 

But, mixed with the relief and feeling of accomplishment, there is also a profound loss.  Writing about the characters that populate your novel is not the same as writing through and with and for them.  When you are in the middle of writing a novel, you not only are writing it when you’re sitting at your desk pecking away at the keyboard.  You are “writing” it 24/7.  At any point of the day–in the shower, half-asleep in bed, at work, driving down the interstate–an idea might arise, a new direction might become clear, a new approach to a scene or a chapter might manifest itself.  Those moments, once you have typed “The End,” are gone.  They cannot return–the book is finished, the race is over and run.

 

There will be future books, of course, future projects.  I will get back in the game.  But for now, it is on to editing, to blogging more (which I look forward to doing!), to transforming an imperfect first draft into a (hopefully) polished and presentable product.

 

So am I glad?  Happy?  Satisfied?  You bet.  A literary-sized albatross–the work-in-progress–has been lifted from my neck.  The sense of relief is tangible.

 

But will I miss it?  Will I miss the process, the Everest-like highs of inspiration, when the muse is generous?  I will.  I’ll even miss the struggles, the walls, the worries of what I’ll do ten chapters hence.  It’s exhausting, confounding, and at times all-consuming.  But I love it.  And its absence leaves an undeniable void.

 

Then again, maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow with a new idea, a new seed that demands to be planted and allowed to grow.

 

Can it be, then, that “The End” is only just the beginning?

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

40 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rmcalzada
    Apr 03, 2017 @ 20:32:51

    Congratulations on completing your first draft of The Singularity Wheel! I find it comforting to hear about a fellow writer who’s had that same experience of looking up at the Mt. Everest that is their sequel and not even knowing where to begin. I have a feeling I will experience something similar when I complete the first book in my trilogy, The Virility Project, which will hopefully happen by this Friday (only 3-5 more chapters to go!).

    Again, congratulations Mike. I wish you a nice bit of rest before you tackle the editing process!

    Reply

  2. joannerambling
    Apr 03, 2017 @ 21:50:55

    You have done well

    Reply

  3. Ipuna Black
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 00:26:41

    Good for you, Mike! I can relate on so many levels. I’m so glad you persisted and finished it. I’m sure you feel 10 pounds lighter. So happy for you. I’m glad you celebrated. Well deserved.

    Reply

  4. Karina Pinella
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 02:45:30

    That is really quite a feeling — completing two books, with one already published. Interesting how you came about writing the sequel.

    Reply

  5. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 03:44:38

    BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!! *applause* and a virtual clap on the back. Oh, what the heck…here’s a hug 🙂

    Reply

  6. jjspina
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 10:03:14

    Congrats on completing your book and for a wonderful post! Look forward to reading it! 🤗

    Reply

  7. barbaramonier
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 14:26:08

    Congratulations, and amen to everything you say!

    Reply

  8. stormy1812
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 23:13:08

    Yay for finishing the sequel! I’m super excited to get to read it. I guess I’ll just have to re-read The Eye-Dancers until that time. 🙂 I kind of feel like you enjoy teasing us with glimpses into this new book lol. That’s good though – builds interest. Shoot, I’m already excited to see what new ideas you have or will have.

    Reply

  9. Rilla Z
    Apr 05, 2017 @ 19:35:19

    “When you are in the middle of writing a novel, you not only are writing it when you’re sitting at your desk pecking away at the keyboard.  You are ‘writing’ it 24/7. – Yes, exactly. I’m so happy for you! Hope editing goes smoothly.

    Reply

  10. Bonnie Marshall
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 00:21:34

    I’m grateful to you, Mike, for the humor and design of Eye Dancers, and for the impressive quality and wisdom of your writing. We go back a ways, and I appreciate knowing you still visit my site. Thought you should know. Smiles…Bonnie

    Reply

  11. Steph McCoy
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 00:43:46

    Congratulations on finishing your novel, it sounds like another winner! It was interesting to me to hear your perspective on the conclusion of the process because being the consumer sometimes, most times, I feel sad, almost to the point of depressed at the end of a book. When fully immersing myself into the story I become heavily invested in the characters. Hearing how you’re feeling never occurred to me until I read this post. These characters are your babies so the magnitude of your feelings must surely be very complex.

    Reply

  12. MelHopkinsdotcom
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 11:05:43

    Wonderful and inspiring words about the process!

    Reply

  13. Daisy in the Willows
    Apr 12, 2017 @ 11:49:24

    Well done. What an achievement. The end 😁😁😁

    Reply

  14. Trackback: Writer’s Ink Challenge – Ipuna Black
  15. Cynthia Reyes
    Apr 13, 2017 @ 02:04:24

    What a powerful and interesting post you wrote. Congrats on completing your new book. That’s a major achievement.

    Reply

  16. kutukamus
    Apr 25, 2017 @ 18:29:59

    Congrats with ‘The End’! 🙂 ‘Singularity wheel’ does sounds intriguing.. something circular or recurring.. Nah, don’t tell me. Again: 🍸

    Reply

  17. Sherri Matthews
    May 16, 2017 @ 19:40:50

    Hi Mike! Late, I know, but I’ve been away from blogging from far too long due to family commitments…but yes, I am still plodding away on those memoir revisions, although you’ve beaten me to the finish line for sure! Many congratulations…what a great feeling!! You are right however, The End, is indeed only the beginning! 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 17, 2017 @ 19:23:55

      Hi Sherri! And thank you.:) Great hearing from you–and you will get there on your memoir revisions.:) I am now doing the full-book edit of the sequel. I actually love this part! No more pressure to come up with new material–just polishing what’s already in place!

      Reply

      • Sherri Matthews
        May 19, 2017 @ 18:41:38

        Hi Mike! Always a pleasure to visit you and hear from you too, and thanks so much for your good wishes on the memoir! So glad you’re enjoying the editing process…all your hard work coming together, it’s wonderful! 🙂

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