Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with her thoughts on why authors—and the rest of us—accomplish things by simply finishing.
Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in a new series, will be out in August 2015.
Last night I watched the movie, Julia and Julie, not for the first time. The movie is charming, full of good food, wonderful depiction of Julia Childs, one of my heroes, pictures of life in Paris, and a lot about how exacting the art of fine cooking can be. However, I was struck by something else. The movie is first and foremost about the importance of finishing. Something. Anything.
Perhaps it resonated so much this time because I’m immersed in trying to finish the second book in the Mary McGill canine mystery series, Curtains for Miss Plym. I have a deadline and am determined to make it, but for some reason working out the snags in this book hasn’t been easy. When Julie’s aspic collapsed in the sink she had all of my sympathy. She had a deadline as well, and she also was determined to meet it. She was going to finish, and she did.
Julia Childs and her co-authors were equally determined to finish. Their project was formidable but they worked through it, pared it down, rewrote, kept submitting, and finished. And what a finish! I’m sure I’m not the only one who still pulls her battered addition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the book shelf when she decides to make onion soup, quiche, perfectly done roast chicken, and so on. She taught us how to cook, and how to eat. The world is a better place because Julia Child finished her cookbook.
Which, of course, made me think of all the people who have also changed the way we live because they finished something. Marie Curie’s research on radiation and plutonium, what it is and how it works, laid the groundwork for a myriad of things, radiation for breast cancer, the atom bomb among them, all because she finished the task she set herself.
Dr. Jonas Salk found a vaccine that whipped out polio and why? Because he wasn’t going to quit until he did. He was determined to finish.
Some people’s inventions were not quite as dramatic but equally effective. Thomas Crapper invented the water closet, better known as the flush toilet. I don’t think I need to explain how that’s changed the world.
Finishing isn’t just about great cooking or inventions, no matter how practical, but about everyday living. For children, finishing homework can win them great praise and great grades, not finishing can win them the opposite outcome. Finishing fixing dinner can sometimes be a huge accomplishment for a harassed mom of young children, just as finishing your project at work can be. Finishing a workout you didn’t want to do but did anyway can be agonizing, but also satisfying. You finished what you started out to do. The list goes on.
It’s no different for a writer. We sit down to the computer (it used to be we sat down to a typewriter with a pile of carbon paper and a bottle of white out but some nice person invented the computer, equipped it with a delete key and changed our lives) and we look at the blank screen with the serene expectation that we are about to produce the great American Novel. About page 3 we’re not so sure and about the time we get to page 172, we’re positive that we’ll never finish. But…we keep going. We keep going, deleting, inserting, while those little beads of blood do pop out on our foreheads. And…one day, lo and behold, we’ve FINISHED. We have a book.
Can you even begin to think how bleak life would be if some of those people had given up around page 172? If Harper Lee hadn’t finished To Kill a Mockingbird? I hear there were many times she thought she couldn’t go on. Or if Margaret Mitchell had thrown her pages against the wall and taken up golf? Or if Raymond Chandler hadn’t introduced us to Philip Marlowe? I could go on and on, but won’t. You can build your own list of authors to whom you are grateful because they didn’t quit. They finished and our lives are richer because they did.
As for me, I’m going back to try to figure out who killed Miss Plym and why and, if you read it or the first in the Mary McGill canine mystery series, Purebred Dead, I hope it will make your life a little richer, or at least a little more enjoyable if only for a few hours.
Because, I am going to finish.