Whenever I do something portentous in writing, I get the trembles. I got them when I realized I’d finished The Swan Harp. I got them when I hit “send” on the email to send the final version to the agent. And this morning I got them again, when I printed out the final version for my own archives.
There’s a solidity, a “thingness”,to the physical creation of something. I always get a bigger kick out of seeing something I’ve written in print than on-screen. It’s one of the reasons I bother to make a bound book of my fiction archive each year. Yes, a looseleaf printout in a binder serves the purpose (ensuring that my computer doesn’t simply eat the year’s work). A bound book, however, always seems more permanent, maybe even more solid or real, illogical as that sounds.
Having the final manuscript of The Swan Harp stored electronically in several places is one thing. You know I don’t completely trust electronic storage. And as for storing it in cyberspace, where the hell is that? Misfiled on my own bookshelves is one thing. As long as I know the volume hasn’t left the house, I can be sure it’ll surface sometime. But storing it “in the cloud”? Yeah, that sounds secure. (Insert sarcasm emoticon here.)
This morning I set up the manuscript for printing, all excited anyway because my new printer does two-sided stuff if you just ask it nicely. (I know – I don’t get out enough. The fact is that I’ve always liked printing equipment.) But when I picked up the first sheaf of pages, I found my hands shaking, and I could feel my whole body vibrating like a harpstring. It was just the physical experience of holding my book – in however simple a form – in my hands. This was it. This was what I’d spent three years or so making. This is where I’d put my time and thought and work for months. It’s a good thing I’d half-finished my coffee before I started printing, or I’d have been slopping it all over the place.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about artists as “sub-creators”. They fill in the corners of creation, because God may have managed stars and sequioas and ducks and bacteria, but He, or She, left the lobster thermidor and stained glass and pottery and poetry to us. Every time I make something, I remember that, and I love the thrill of knowing that I brought something into being that never existed before.
That’s what I was having this morning. If I start thinking about it, I get trembly all over again. You could tell, if you were there in the room with me, because of the way the edges of the paper shook when I held them. It’s an incredible feeling, knowing I’ve made a whole novel, especially when I didn’t actually think, five or six years ago, that I had a work of that length in me. Now I’ve got plans for five or six more. And you know what? I hope I never, ever, ever get over that thrill. I hope every completed novel makes my hands tremble at the enormity of what I’ve completed.
It’s a great feeling. I wish everyone could have it. Just remember not to fill your coffee cup too full.