Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 19, 2011

Last Chapters

Not that I have much familiarity with good housekeeping, something I expect I’ve recorded too much here, but what sometimes gets me through chores is being able to fill a vase with flowers at the end. I like the last touches. The neat-at-last stacks, the fluffed-for-once pillows, the afghan in its place are fun to arrange, like tending to details at the end of a draft. I like dawdling among a plot that I’ve set through a lot of heavy hauling. It’s fun to mess with line breaks, turn around a sentence here, replace a word there. Staring into space in search of an image can make me fidget, but polishing the edges is kind of delightful.

The past weeks have been devoted to such dustcloths, and I’m both happy and scared. The room is almost ready for guests I’ve longed to see. But of course then the nerves start wracking. What if no one wants to sit down? What if, after all, there are clumps of dog hair I missed? What if this room where I’ve been cozy isn’t a space anyone else cares about?

So I go back to tidying. A little bit necessary, a little bit obsessive. And with my face near the floor, I might notice the state of the cabinets. Yikes. One surface sends me to others, and I may have to open doors. I find my character tipping, when she can use a good push. Or raising her eyebrows when she needs to slam her fist. I’m a fan of the subtle, but I can get too sub. So bits of plot gets swept around.

And I remember sometimes we have to bring in lilies of the valley whether or not the bureau is dusted. In the quiet room I can’t wait to bust out of and also hate to leave.



  1. Oh, I love this. I finished my first draft yesterday and those “final” words felt just right, but I didn’t even allow myself the joy of breathing before I went right back to chapter 1 to start all over again. When our lilies of the valley finally bloom, I will stop, take the time to fill a vase, and think of you. Thanks, Jeannine! And I hope you enjoy those final moments before The End.

  2. What a lovely post and beautiful flowers. I love cut flowers in the house and am missing many this year since I didn’t get my wildflower seeds out.
    I think your guests will be so thrilled to spend time with you they wouldn’t notice a tumbleweed of dog hair going by. I know I wouldn’t.

  3. I don’t think the issue will be whether your guests will want to sit down. I suspect it’ll be a matter of them not wanting to leave.
    Enjoy the polishing, but please also allow yourself time to relax.

  4. I relate to what you said….sometimes it’s subtle on paper (but Technicolor inside my mind).

  5. It’s hard to remember to stop for the joy of breathing before circling back to work, when you know you left darlings to kill and kicked up a lot of dust in your way. But it’s probably good for us to try. Your lilies of the valley shouldn’t be too far behind ours. Michelle will be picking a bunch for herself, her birthday ritual, on Sunday: maybe we’ll all be stopping for the joy of breathing that wonderful scent!

  6. Thanks, Susan. Writers and dog lovers are always welcome!

  7. Thanks for your reminder to take pleasure in the moments of finishing – or whatever we decide to call finished. And … you are the sweetest. Your friend Cathy emailed me saying wonderful things about you, including your insistence that she must read Borrowed Names, and her saying that you never lead her wrong. I’m smiling across the continent.

  8. Way back when, I took a dance class with an instructor who pulled my arms and ankles when I was balancing in some kind of arabesque, and said, “You think you’re stretched when you’re not.” That voice comes back to haunt me at the computer.

  9. Your imagery always shakes up and wakes up my mind, Jeannine. I’m laughing at the parts about your face near the floor and the character who needs a good push. Good for you on approaching the end of another bout of housekeeping, and for sharing it with us in your magical, subtle, whimsical way.

  10. Thanks so much, Toby. Hope your spring is going well.

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