Last Sunday night on Twitter I ran across one of those Tweets that tells you about yourself. By which I mean, I learned something I thought was a deeply private humiliation is in fact a glass mountain many other writers try to climb: the practice of using determined aspirational file names (“FinalFinal.v.3.docx”) to try to announce to ourselves that this time — really, really this time — we are going to finish that novel.
The ego wants the novel to be done before the novel is done, as I learned eventually, after 8 or so years of typing these file names on at least 250 drafts of my novel. I had begun the practice of renaming drafts if major changes occurred back during the writing of my first novel, but that was not a good plan for a second novel, once that novel grew longer, eventually three times the size of that first novel. In 2008, for example, determined to finish, I first began using “queen.final.” By 2013, typing “final” on any of the files brought down waves of scalding self-mockery. By 2015, when I was really finishing, I stopped using “final.” By then it seemed, if anything, more like a sign I would not finish.
The novel doesn’t care what the ego wants. You can type “final” into a file name as many times as you want and the end will not come until you’ve figured the novel out. Stamping your foot under a half blank screen won’t help. I was struggling with the technology involved in being a writer as much as I was struggling with the writing itself. The existential question for those of us writing on word processing software: How do you finish a book when you could always fix something?
I am a writer who began on a typewriter in 1984, and by 1986, first began using a computer owned by my only friend who could afford one. The rest of us otherwise used the computers in the computer center.