Elusive Finish Line

I’ve been working on the first draft of my first novel for a year and five months. For last five months I’ve claimed to be in the home stretch, a place that has proved to have great elasticity indeed. My finish line keeps moving.  I’ve added three chapters that somehow eluded my beginning outline, so how was I supposed to know I was going to have to write them? Then there’s the ever-present problem of finding time to do the writing. I considered telling my kids they couldn’t have birthdays this year because I had a book to finish, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Likewise I never quite get to the point of saying to my boss “Sorry, I’m on a roll with my writing. My paying job will have to wait.”

It’s getting embarrassing, as people ask me how the novel is going and I keep answering “Almost done with the first draft.”  I hope it doesn’t go on my tombstone: “She almost finished the first draft.” I started telling people I was writing a novel because I thought if others knew about my project, I’d have to finish it. It would help me to take myself seriously.

At first I spoke with enthusiasm, even when I encountered the skeptical look I knew meant everyone’s writing a novel. I spoke with confidence because I knew I’d be the person who actually finished the task. When queried, I’d report “Got the outline done.” Or “Wrote another chapter last week.” And it sounded even to me as if I were progressing toward something, even if I was getting there at a strolling pace. Now I’m starting to feel like Moses, with the promise of a new land shifting ever onward into the future and a whole nation asking “Are we there yet?” Or like a bad credit risk. I find myself tempted to avoid those acquaintances who are most likely to ask about the status of my novel because it feels too much like “Do you have that $20 you owe me yet?”

I know I’ve done this to myself.  It’s only because I set myself up for it that I have to feel so sheepish now when I answer. I suppose there’s only one solution, and that’s to finish the damn book. Which I guess means my plan is working.  I told everyone I was going to do it. Now I have to keep my word.