Saturday, 22 March 2014

Welcome to The End: On finishing a manuscript, and the state of flow.

A couple weeks ago, I made a set of final edits to a manuscript I have been working on for quite some time. The manuscript is for my newest book, tentatively titled “Any Mummers Allowed In? Christmas Mummering Traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador.” It has been a work-in-progress for a while; I started chatting with Garry Cranford at Flanker Press about it several years ago. Now, after a couple years of alternating between bouts of intense procrastination and intense work, it is finished. The manuscript, the photographs, the illustration captions, the list of thank-you’s, they have all been passed over to Flanker for the next phase of editing and layout.

The handing over of that body of work, and the relinquishing of a daily routine of writing and research, is a strange thing.

“You must be pleased,” one acquaintance said to me, upon hearing of the manuscript’s completion. That would seem to be a logical thing to say to an author upon finishing a piece of work. And, in truth, I am indeed pleased. I am happy it is finished, and there is a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with looking at a stack of paper and ink and thinking, “I made this thing.”

But most of what I have been feeling is a strange sense of emptiness, or loss.

I love working on projects; I am a very project-oriented person. I love creating things, and making things happen. While I’m working on something, particularly on a research and writing project, there is often a state in which I find myself. My mind gets focussed, and for a while, all the other worries and anxieties of my life fade to the background.

Psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi calls this state “flow” - an optimal experience or state of concentration or absorption, where one is so engrossed in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

Coming out of that state is always slightly jarring for me. I start to worry a bit more, sleep a bit more erratically, and feel like something is missing. I crave another project to work on, and I wonder sometimes if isn’t so much the project I am interested in, but that sense of being in the state of flow that comes with it.

So what is next for me then? I always have a couple projects in the back of my mind, and have already started a writing folder for another book project of Newfoundland and Labrador ghost stories. I have ideas for a couple other research and writing projects, and a few storytelling performance show ideas I want to explore.

And in the meantime, there is still the mummers book, which, though the manuscript is complete, still isn’t a finished product. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will evolve through the editing and design process. If everything goes smoothly, look for it on bookstore shelves by the autumn, well in time for your Christmas shopping!

(Mummer photo courtesy Neddal Ayad)

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