the last mile
Updated: Aug 26, 2020
The last mile is always the hardest mile…you’re tired, bored with your own work, and vulnerable to all sorts of insecurities that make finishing the race (book) a weird experience.
It reminds me of the time I ran my first (and only) marathon. I crossed the finish line and began weeping. I couldn’t find my mom. No, really. My mom had come to Hawaii to support me and I couldn’t find her—so I started crying like the adult child I was in that moment. For “normal” writers—you know who they are—the famous, known, prolific ones. The ones who put “author” in the “title” category for what they actually do. Writers write. I know plenty of them and they all write whether they feel like it or not. They publish, they speak, they travel to do readings (at least they used to), they write for television shows—for those writers, the last mile is probably like tying their shoes because they are so used to finishing. For the rest of us, the last mile is precarious, too precious. What now? Now we have to do all the “other” work—which sucks. Instead of writing the next book I’m going to start writing about how the one I just finished actually got finished. It’s the only way, really. To release, to let go, to birth another baby…pick a metaphor. The simple fact is that I cannot start anything else until this one is done and my wife no longer has to tell me to move on to the next project.
My book is a memoir. Perhaps that makes it more difficult to complete? Perhaps if I had written a book about card games or cooking I may have been able to finish it in a “timely” manner. Instead, I simply use the excuse that I am not a writer and therefore, have no obligation to finish. Unfortunately, I cannot use that excuse any more. I am a writer. Now, I’m going to begin talking about all the meaningful stuff I love talking about, the things I find funny, tragic, creative, and spiritual. All the ways I find creativity and beauty in the mundane.
“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” — Annie Proulx
Because I'm a filmmaker, writing has always been a visual exercise, precisely why I love screenplays. But it's also about the words on the page...It's also the reason I became an information designer, an exercise in the intersection of images and words, typography and color, and lines and shapes.
How Not to Write a Book
I began my book after 9/11. It was never supposed to be a book, but after so much time and so many pages and author friends telling me I had a book, I had to admit it to myself.
“The story must strike a nerve in me. My heart should start pounding when I hear the first line in my head. I start trembling at the risk.”
I wrote my first book in a fervor. With major gaps of time in between the life that was happening to me (not the one I would eventually create), compelling me to throw up a bunch of words onto paper. But always, it felt risky and unavoidable. Sometimes it was easy, especially in the beginning. I gave myself permission to not have to organize my thoughts right away and that was freedom. But sometimes, the process was heavy and dark and took me to places I didn't want to visit. It seeped into my dreams and I'd find myself not wanting to take part in the mundane aspects of life, like grocery shopping.
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book." --Samuel Johnson.
A woman will too. In writing my first book, I spent more time reading, although at the time, it felt a bit like procrastination. The obvious choice was to use my inspirational reads as a structural element in the chapter headers of the book. But reading was simply a part of my process and not something I took lightly. My book is a non-linear journey of the heart, not the mind. Those who know me, know that it’s a more difficult path for me to take. I did learn, however, that any path is better than no path at all…just the showing up every day to write a few things down and depending on how many days you eventually string together—you just might write your way to book. But again, this is the “how NOT to write a book approach.”
There might be a story idea waiting for you just around the corner of your life. Everything in life is fair game. It comes down to how one organizes the letters of the alphabet in various sequences as to whether people want to read your words. And it's this very thing that can get rattled off in a messy blog post or take years to write in a book.