Getting to done?

What are you writing?

I can answer this question with a recitation of the facts, trying to explain in a succinct fashion what I’m battering away on–but the question I hear is: when will you be done? This question gets a very different response.

My starts are frequent and brave. I have file folders pressing scraps of paper like leaves, ideas preserved for a time I think I hope will come. There are more active projects, too, but even these tend to hang around for a long time–my current book has been in the works for about 3 years (but I have notes relating to it that date back another 12). Funny: I’m almost done with this book; I can see its finish in the not-too-distant future. But a part of me is reluctant to conclude, and I’m not exactly sure why.

Maybe it’s because we’ve been together for so long, and finishing would be like saying goodbye to a friend. Maybe it’s because the book is on one of those topics that stretches out to the horizon and past–how could I possibly dare to key in that final period? Maybe it’s because other projects beckon, and I’d sorta like to get after those instead. Maybe it’s knowing that once I finish, I’ll need to shift gears, into marketing and sales–and frankly, I’d rather write.

Whatever the case, I need to get this done. Other books are queuing up, and their clamor for attention is not diminishing; besides, after a while, one cannot say one is writing a book so much as one is simply writing. That’s not a bad thing, but if the intent is to produce books, then at some point that last chapter needs its words.

Which reminds me of another reason why getting to done is hard to do. In the days of typewriters, it was a huge deal to rewrite, and one had to think long and hard about adding or deleting a section because it meant another few hundred pages of punching keys. With computers, of course, the file is incredibly malleable. That’s great for the rewrites that are essential to the writing process, but it also enables those who like to tinker. Finish? Sure–as soon as I fix/add/strike/expand on this…. And don’t get me started on the impact of the web’s data firehose. How can one tell when one has read enough on the subject matter in one’s book? Do I really want to risk not taking this blog/tweet/survey/photo/dancing cat into account?

Completing this blog post reminds me that I really do want to finish what I’m writing. And that should go well, so long as someone doesn’t ask what I’m reading.

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