How can you tell when a brown towel is clean?
Anyone remember that? It was the selling point for an ad for laundry detergent on television back in the 70s. It might have been for Tide or Cheer or one of those heinous collections of chemicals that pass for laundry detergent. The idea was that if you couldn’t see the dirt or mildew on a towel how would you know it was there? Well, by SMELL obviously, but in the commercial a family stood around holding towels and wondering Gee, how can we tell if these are clean? Because that’s what commercials do, ask the question that plants a doubt in your mind (Gee, how do I know if my green towels are clean? What about my blue ones?), and once you have that doubt, they have you. They (Those evil THEM) prey on your insecurity and, gee, I guess the only way to be sure those brown-blue-green towels are clean is to buy the product.
What does this have to do with anything? I finished the first draft of my middle grade novel and I had a strange sensation of not knowing, well, if my metaphorical brown towel was clean. (Hmm, metaphorical brown towel sounds a little nasty.) I knew the end was in sight, I was wrapping things up, and all of a sudden I wrote a sentence, looked at it, and thought Gee, I don’t think I need to say anything else.
Another thought crossed my mind, another slogan from another commercial. In California there was a TV ad for the state lottery. You see a POV shot of a guy on a motorcycle charging down a pastoral road. In voiceover you’d hear an average joe say This is weird. There’d be a beat and he’d follow up with It’s great, but it’s weird. The idea, of course, is that with all his lottery money he could quit his job, buy a motorcycle, and then just zoom around with nothing better to do.
So I’m looking at this final sentence for maybe ten minutes. Is there something more I need to say, any loose ends (brown towel)? Am I really finished (this is weird)?
Why, in these moments of personal triumph, does my mind flood with memories of TV commercials from long ago?
So it’s done.
Suze asked me if this was the first book manuscript that I have completed. I opened my mouth to automatically say “of course not” but then it got caught in my throat. Is it? I have completed screenplays, but a book? Really? This is it? No wonder it feels so alien that I can only relate it to TV commercials: it’s surreal and it doesn’t make sense! It is something I’ve never done before, something I also never really prepared myself for.
Rewrites and revisions, naturally. An overhaul of the opening and a lot of tightening of nuts and bolts. Maybe a short rest before backtracking. Maybe start something new to keep the energy moving forward. The YA about the teens who make a fake documentary to get into college? Another middle grade story about sea exploration? No! I already have a dozen stories I’d been meaning to write. Other characters who have been patient far too long. Wait! I need to focus on revision, I need to work on something smaller. A short story. Serious or humorous? Who read short stories? Okay… focus.
It’s just manuscript, just a first draft.
They’re just words on paper.
But they are mine.