Dani Shapiro
May 26, 2009

On Finishing

How does a writer know when she’s finished–actually taken a manuscript as far as it can be taken? Whenever I think about this, one of my favorite quotes about writing, from E.L. Doctorow, comes to mind. Doctorow once famously said that writing a book is like driving in the fog, at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can get all the way home that way. To take Doctorow’s metaphor a bit further, then how do you know when you’re finished? Maybe when you crash into the garage door?

I have finished DEVOTION. Which is to say that I hit the “send” button a few weeks ago, and off it went to my agent and my editor. And then I held my breath. I didn’t even have time to turn blue in the face–and believe me, I know how lucky I am–because I heard from both of them within forty-eight hours. They both loved my book, and so we are off to the races. I went from finishing a draft of a manuscript, which is such a tender, frail thing, to pre-publication mode, which is an intensity of a completely different sort.

But still, as I turn my attention to catalog copy and blurbs and author photos and all the rest, I am fiddling. Turning a magnifying lens on my sentences. The other day I stared at two words for hours. I think someone else once famously said that a writer knows she’s finished when she takes out the final comma, then puts it back in.

DEVOTION will be published–along with a new edition of SLOW MOTION–in March.