For the last five months, I pushed myself to complete the final chapters of my novel. My cast of characters moved into my office requiring more and more attention with each passing day. We’ve all had guests like that. They show up one day with no intention of leaving anytime soon, bringing their messy habits, quirky behaviors, conflicts, and wounded personalities with them, slowly wreaking havoc on what was once normal life.
The chaos my guests created was indescribable. Far from being the ordinary, charming people that I envisioned, they all turned out to be the most extraordinary eccentrics who had difficulty understanding one another and living under the same roof together. One was a man of ill repute, a bad character filled with anger—a most troublesome guest. Another was a ghost who haunted the shores of a nearby pond. Another was a genteel, charming young woman who saw and heard ghosts, hell-bent on unearthing family secrets. Their lives intertwined. Their hopes, imperfections, conflicts, and struggles became mine. I poured myself into their world seeking to strike a balance between their lives and my own.
Then in one unexpected almost magical moment, they resolved their conflicts. Perfect. The ill repute said to the genteel woman in the final line of my novel: “Just perfect!” I clicked Save then Print rushing to the printer waiting with bated breath as the final chapter slowly emerged, remembering the months and years of agonizing fits, self-doubt, and innumerable stops and starts. I returned to my office and held my complete novel in my hand, recalling when all I had was a storyline, hypothetical characters, and the desire to be the novelist I imagined I could be back when I was a college student.
When I told my English professor about my aspiration, he said, "Writing a novel isn't easy. It’s something that few normal people manage to do." Although life got in the way of my college dream, I held fast to it. Finally, at age 70, I accomplished what few manage to do. I was euphoric!
"Now what?" my husband asked during our celebratory dinner.
"I'm not sure. I'm in shell shock, even a little sad.”
“I don’t know.”
What was this unexpected sadness that washed over me like an unwanted wave knocking my sandcastles flat? Was the feeling similar to the one I experience after long-term guests leave—delighted they’re gone but feeling lost without them? Or was it something else? Something bigger?
“My characters and I have been through so much together. Now—now they’re gone. I miss them, but—but there’s something else I can’t quite put my finger on.” I almost wept.
“I assume what you’re feeling is normal.”
“Normal?! I haven’t been normal for months,” I exclaimed, suddenly remembering my college professor’s words. “I don’t think normal exists for me anymore.”
“Makes sense,” he reassured me. “Novelists must go beyond normal to create. They aren’t normal. If they were, we’d all be novelists.”