"So how much longer until you finish your book?" my wife asks.
"I finish . . . when I finish."
"Yes, but when will that be?"
"I don't know."
She looks disappointed. "But you said . . ."
"What I said was that I would like to be finished some time next year—say, spring, late spring, June or July."
"That's not spring! That's summer!"
"You see, darling, that's where my creative genius comes in. It allows me to bend time, to perceive June and July in ways the ordinary, bound-to-reality person cannot."
Now she looks irritated.
"C’mon, you're asking me the kind of question you'd ask of the staff at Kinko's. Writing isn't a project."
"It is, too, a project."
"It is not at all like anything that goes on in the business world. It’s not just a matter of setting a deadline, then meeting it, and going onto other things. No, stories have a life of their own, and once you get involved with them, even though you're the one telling it, you never can tell when you'll be surprised by what comes up."
"So when will you be finished?" she asks again. She can be terribly persistent at times.
"You're not listening to me."
"To be honest,” I continue, “I've always wondered if a writer really ever feels ‘finished’ with the novel he’s managed to get published. I mean, no matter how many times I rewrite something, there will always be things that need changing, a better choice of words here, a deletion or addition there."
"Murakami Haruki said that he never read any of his books once they had been published."
"It wouldn't surprise me if other authors did likewise. Or musicians, for that matter. Does a rock star listen to his own songs? I doubt it, unless he's a narcissist . . . Funny, but I've seen so many movies which show an author typing out the last sentence of his novel. You know, always on one of those old manual typewriters, right? Tappity-tap-tap: The End! And then without fail, he'll rip the page out of the typewriter and look at it with the satisfaction one has when a job is complete. And you know why?"
"Because actors are not writers. And because they read scripts, not books."
"Hmm . . ."
"No, a writer is only finished with his novel when the thought of spending another day with it is more disgusting to him than the thought of leaving it as is. He pushes the plate away, ‘Enough!’ he shouts. ‘I can't take any more of this crap.’ Then he crosses his fingers and submits it. And the smile he has when it's published is not the smile of satisfaction; no, it's the smile of a con man who's just gotten away with it . . . But seriously, the reason I said that I would like to finish ‘next spring’ is so that I can get onto to writing something different."
"You have other ideas for novels?"
"Dozens! I sometimes feel as if I'm the new checker at a supermarket and there’s a long line of customers waiting impatiently, looking over the shoulder of the people in front of them, and looking over at the other registers and thinking of changing lines . . ."
"Do you think when a novelist dies his last thoughts are, ‘If only I'd written that book?’"
"More like, ‘If only I had sold out sooner!’"