Last week, I finished tweaking SWEET HEART (the companion book to DEAR HEART). and as I closed the document and looked around my windswept study, I realized that there's a ritual I go though every time I finish a writing project. It started decades ago, when I was writing short stories, and although I've refined and added to it over the years, it has basically remained the same.
The first thing I do is light up a fresh cigarette, pour a new cup of coffee and enjoy them both while I contemplate my accomplishment. I know that there's work still to be done, but I let myself savor the fact that the heavy lifting is behind me. Generally, I'm too keyed up to go to bed (even though I probably dotted the last 'i' and crossed the last 't' sometime between midnight and 3 AM), so I start cleaning up the mess I created in the two or three previous days. Before I start, I set up WORD to print out a copy of my manuscript.
When I'm nearing the completion of a project, I rarely stop for anything, so there's likely piles of research all over the place, empty ink cartridges and cigarette packs strewn on the floor, and dirty dishes littering my desk, along with two or three ashtrays filled to overflowing. Ordinarily, having my study in this state of disarray would drive me insane, but when I'm in the final stages of creative labor, and pushing out those last two hundred words, keeping my workplace neat and organized is not on my radar.
I pick up the debris, empty the ashtrays and carry the dirty dishes to the kitchen; then I stack my research in a neat pile to be sorted and filed the next day. By that time, the manuscript has finished printing, so I date it and put it in a new file folder, and then reload my printer's paper tray and clean it's print heads. By this time the adrenaline has worn off and exhaustion has set in, so I go to bed and sleep for ten to twelve hours.
When I finally get up, I head straight to the bathroom to take a shower and wash my hair and put on make-up, none of which things I've done for two days. Then I go into my study, select the doo-wop playlist on my iPhone and go to work. You're probably surprised to read that at this point I prefer Neil Sedaka and Del Shannon to Sinatra, but bear in mind that I have been listening to my DEAR HEART playlist for nearly four years, and although I'll listen to it again before I finally shelve it in favor of the sound track for my next book, on this day, I want to enjoy the moment with music that makes me want to dance.
I crank up the volume on my BOSE iPhone dock to 30 -- the highest it will go, and run the vacuum, and Windex and polish every surface in the room, while singing along with Neil, and shaking my booty in sync with the music which is a sight to behold -- and not in a good way.
When the cleaning is done and everything is back to normal, I sort and consolidate my research and file it away. I'm probably starting to exhibit manuscript withdrawal symptoms right about then, but I won't let myself open my manuscript again for at least one more day. I've learned through bitter experience that a writer needs fresh eyes to give her story that final once-over before sending it out into the world to be rejected. Luckily, I probably have more than a dozen episodes of my favorite television shows on my DVR, so I grab a party-size bag of Lay's Original Potato Chips, and settle in to catch up with Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades, Riggs and Murtaugh, Meredith and Alex, Conrad and Nic, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Hettie, Pride, Madam Secretary, and a dozen episodes of House Hunters in its various incarnations. If I fall asleep while the tv's still on, so much the better, because the next day it's back to business.
As my document is opening, I heave a deep sigh because I know that I'm going to find a ton of mistakes and at least two passages that, while seemingly wonderful when I wrote them, won't stand up under the light of a new day. Before I even start reading I run a SPELL/GRAMMAR check and wonder how I ever could have misspelled the simplest of words, used 'there' instead of 'their' more than once, confused my tenses, and forgot to include verbs in a couple of sentences. When that part's done, I start reading -- out loud. It's the only way I can be sure I'm really concentrating and not just glancing at language I've seen so many times that it's burned into my retinas. This is when my dog, Sam, finds refuge in my husband's den, because he's heard it all before and he's sick of it.
When that part's done, I print out a final copy of the manuscript, and while that's churning out of my Canon, I get my file of potential publishers and agents and start scouring their websites for their submission criteria. I try to send out at least six queries a day, but some days I'll send out more and some days I'll send out none because it's now time to pay the piper and attend to those household duties that I've been neglecting for far too long.
Chances are I won't dive into the next book for a couple of weeks because my brain is fried and my imagination has left the building. But, in the meantime, I'll review the outline and storyboard I created when I needed a break from the previous book, and I'll start playing the new soundtrack to get me in the mood for the new story.
And there you have it. Unlike a real ritual, there's nothing magical about it. It doesn't help me land a publisher any faster or make writing the new book any easier. But it does put me in the right frame of mind to promote the old book and start creating the new one, which any writer will tell you is half the battle.