Since we last spoke, I finished the first draft of the novella I mentioned here two weeks ago. 33,000 words. It’s the first thing of significance, writing or otherwise, I’ve finished in years.
The work day ends, certainly, but the job never does. This newspaper you’re reading is the perfect example. Sure, we did our job on this end to get this edition into your hands, but the news, and therefore the job, never ends. There’s always another week, another edition. We’re not done. It’s not finished. The moment this newspaper you’re reading went to press, we started working on the one you’ll read next week.
See you there.
I’d suspect that’s how most people feel in their jobs. Each day might be another chapter, maybe even just another paragraph, but the book never ends.
I dread to think each day might only be a sentence. A word?
Hopefully, I have quite a while to go before I retire but, even then, I suspect a lot of people, maybe even most, feel not like they’ve finished—accomplished what they set out to do—but rather that they are leaving something that is still in progress and, by doing so, have not actually completed anything.
Maybe that’s just going to be me, but I feel like that’s how I’m going to feel.
That could be the nature of writing, though, because I can tell you, less than 24 hours after I struck the last key on the first draft of my novella, I began to look ahead to the next thing I’d like to write.
And let’s not forget, there’s still editing and rewriting to be done on the current project. So, even when the book is done, it’s not really done.
And here’s something else, something I first heard George Lucas say, but I’d imagine it predates him. Whether it’s a novel, a film, a painting or any other artistic endeavor, they’re never finished.
So far, we’ve only talked about not feeling finished with the things that, from a technical standpoint, we do finish. What about the things, the many, many things, we start but do not finish by any measure of the word.
As a writer, I can tell you one of the fulfilling things about writing for a newspaper is finishing what you start is compulsory. Whether it’s the news stories, the features or this column, what we write for the paper has to be finished or you won’t have a newspaper to read. Since that’s not an option, the paper you’re reading now is the result of 11 people finishing what they set out to do because that’s what had to be done.
And next week we’ll do it again.
That’s newspapers. What about all the fiction I’ve started in my life and never finished?
I feel some degree of confidence saying the overwhelming majority of fictioneers have more chunks and fragments of their stuff lying about than they do solid, satisfying complete works.
That’s the magic of a deadline, by the way.
But never mind the writing, how many books have I started to read, but failed to finish? How many paperbacks in progress do you have in the house right now? At least a couple, I bet, and they’re not unfinished because they’re bad.
We don’t finish much of anything, do we? The job is never done, people continue their educations well into adulthood or go back for more. On a given day, how many of our conversations end before they’re finished?
Did you finish your lunch today?
If I was going to put a silver lining on this, I suppose I could say that, for most of us, life is a never-ending challenge we tackle head-on, but sort of silently accept we will never truly finish, and so we should take great pleasure and satisfaction from all the little things we do complete along the way.
I suppose I could say that, but I wonder, when we die do we, even then, feel like we’re leaving so much left undone?
They say, be they George Lucas or someone else, that, when you die, you’re going to regret the things you didn’t do. If that’s true, then maybe what I just said above has some merit. Maybe the way to get the most out of life is to finish what we start, however small, and then get on to the next one and finish that. Maybe, in that way, we can create a string of victories—some big, most small—that will add up to satisfaction when it’s time to go.
My wife, about a year after taking up running, just ran the Philadelphia Marathon.
She finished it.
Earlier this year, I made a deal with a little publisher to write this novella.
I finished it.
Writing and running, two of the best metaphors for life, I think.
Neither of us is done.
Reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas