Ghostwriter Diaries – Not Really The End

NotebookApproximately ten minutes ago, I wrote the two most satisfying, thrilling, heart-breaking and terrifying words in the English language.

“The End”

I wrote them on the final page of book two of the ghostwriting project I’ve been chronicling here for, oh, it feels like years (possibly because it has been years). That means I’ve finished the first draft of a novel that’s at least half-mine, with the other half belonging to the editorial team at the book publishers who hired me.

Writing “The End” is satisfying for all the obvious reasons. It means I’ve ploughed the furrow of this story all the way to the top end of the field. Put simply, it means I made it.

It’s also thrilling, because it means I’ve only gone and created something. Trust me, there’s no bigger buzz than stepping back from the statue, wiping the clay from your hands and seeing the sun glancing off the shapes you made. Actually, it’s a double-buzz, because however hard a book might be to write (and, frankly, in recent weeks this one’s been a complete bugger) I generally find the final chapters come out in a kind of white heat. Closing the circle of any story is an aerobic activity. Believe it.

But there’s a dark side. Writing “The End” never fails to break my heart, because it means the journey’s over. No longer can I bury myself in the fantasies I’ve been spinning, justifying my departure from the real world with the feeble excuse that I have a deadline to meet. The truth is, when the plough is biting deep into the ground, there’s no place I’d rather be than in the traces of the horse that’s pulling it.

And yes, writing “The End” is terrifying too. Because, even though I’ve done my best, I know with devastating certainty that my best can’t possibly be good enough. I might have reached the trees at the top of the field, but what will I see when I look back? Will the furrow I’ve ploughed be straight and true? Or will it wander aimlessly through briar patch and swamp, running here deep, there shallow, a sterile pit from which nothing worthwhile will ever grow?

So here I am, trapped in these four conflicting states, knowing that the only response I can possibly make is to set the manuscript aside and take a deep, deep breath. In a perfect world, I’d bury the thing for weeks, or even months, ensuring that when I returned to it for editing, it would be with fresh eyes.

But the world of the ghostwriter is far from perfect. The reality is that I now have precisely one week to edit the nine chapters comprising this, the novel’s final act, before emailing them to my editor.

I already have the editorial notes for the first two acts, but the crazy timescales involved with a project like this mean I’ve had time to give them only a cursory glance. That means I can guarantee there are inconsistencies between all three acts, because each successive deadline has loomed too fast for me to accommodate the previous notes.

That’s okay. I’ll receive the notes on this final act at the beginning of March. I’ll then have the rest of that month to review the entire manuscript, revising the complete first draft according to all the editorial notes, tackling everything in one go, while at the same time aligning it with my own internal compass.

Therefore, although I have just experienced the satisfying, thrilling, heart-breaking terror of writing “The End”, the truth is that the journey isn’t really over. I’ve just taken one more turn of the path.

That suits me. I like the path. It consistently takes unexpected twists and the view is frequently spectacular. One day I really will reach the end – we all do, right? – but right now I’m in no hurry.

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