Dispatches | September 03, 2010

For years there’s been a wonderful image in my head, taken no doubt from the movies, in which a writer pulls the final page of his novel’s first draft from the typewriter—always a typewriter, never a laser printer—adds it to the stack of typed pages beside him that has been growing taller over the months or years, soberly sizes up his accomplishment, then pops opens the obligatory bottle of champagne to celebrate with his loved ones.

That moment always seemed like the writer’s equivalent of blasting through the finish line tape, or summiting a Himalayan peak. The climb was a struggle, but look at that view. . . .

I’m not a champagne drinker, and I don’t remember how the bottle got into my refrigerator. But it did. And I decided that, clichéd as it sounds, I would open it the night that I finally finished the first draft of my book. Before long, though, a nagging question formed: Will I even know when it’s finished? I write on the computer, after all, not on a typewriter, and it’s never been clear to me exactly when one draft ends and another begins.

Sure enough, one day I found myself busily revising a chunk of the manuscript when I suddenly thought: Drat! I think I missed it.

Now, I’m awfully glad for my PC and the opportunity it affords me to cut and paste and move effortlessly between the acts of adding new words and fixing the old ones. In fact, this way of working at the computer, a sort of undefined writing/revising amalgam, feels so hardwired in my brain by this point that I’d probably have about as much luck writing on a typewriter as I would writing on a Victrola. Yet I can’t help feeling nostalgic for a time that I never actually experienced—even if I suspect it probably never existed anyway outside of the movies. Surely one’s propensity to seize celebratory moments comes less from technology and more from personality. Still, I love to think about finishing a draft, for better or worse, and knowing that now—precisely now—is the right time to pop open the bubbly.

Michael Kardos is the author of the story collection One Last Good Time, forthcoming in February 2011 from Press 53. While earning his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, he served as Contest Editor for The Missouri Review. He currently co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. His website is michaelkardos.com.