When the End of the Road is Just the Beginning

I just now, moments ago, finished the first draft of the last chapter of my book-length memoir. I am alone in my basement, full of joy and excitement and wonder, but I am not alone, because I know that the readers of this blog are with me.

I still have a ways to go on this journey. My work-in-progress–or WIP as I’ve learned writers like to say–is a chronicle of my six-week journey across the United States, in which I pursued creativity and, instead, it found me. That trip led me to start on the path of an art-committed life, one I’ve maintained for a bit more than two years now. In fact, I started this blog shortly after returning from that trip. My first post is dated October 23, 2010 and, appropriately, is titled “Starting Down the Road.” It begins, “You’ve stumbled across a project of self-indulgence.”

And so you have. But you’ve also joined me on this road. Together we have explored both the difficulties and the rewards of following that path. One reward is the exhilaration I feel right now, the rush of creative energy. That final chapter successfully braids together the three main story lines of the memoir into one tight bow, sealed by the book’s theme, and it does so in six short pages.

Like Lewis and Clark, my journey ended in Oregon. I may not have faced the obstacles they did, but I too was an explorer, of my creative self.

In two weeks I will have these pages polished sufficiently to send them, and the rest of my writing output this month, to my Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA advisor, memoirist extraordinaire Sue Silverman. This is part of the last “packet” of creative writing I’ll produce for her. In late December I’ll return to Montpelier for another residency. Then I will begin my final semester with a new advisor, focused on taking this first draft of my WIP and polishing it to the point where I can share it with the world.

The scene takes place in Portland, Oregon, the last stop on my cross-country journey. But while that drive had come to an end, I know today’s writing session is merely a mile marker. That is fine. It is a significant one, and I embrace it fully.

I never anticipated it would take two years to write a first-draft of this book–as a former wire reporter and an 18-year veteran of blogging, I know how to crank out copy–but I didn’t anticipate how many twists and turns the book would take as I learned how to apply the literary lessons I’m learning from my MFA advisors. My hope is that the end product will be worth it. I know it will be something I never could have produced without their guidance.

Thank you to all of my readers who have been with me on this journey, in particular some of the individuals who were among the first to stumble across my self-indulgence, like Milli Thornton and Charlotte Rains Dixon. You’ve put up with my self-doubt and my rants, and still you’re with me. That keeps me going. It will sustain me tomorrow, when I sit down at the computer at 5:00 in the morning and realize I’m not done, when I remember that writing is in the art of revision, and that several hundred pages await that process.

But that is tomorrow. Today I smile, and I bask.

45 thoughts on “When the End of the Road is Just the Beginning

  1. Jenny Alexander

    Congratulations! I’ve learnt in my long career that this is the moment to get your friends round and crack open the bubbly, not wait months for the traditional celebrations at the launch 🙂


    1. Hi Carole Jane! Thank you so much for the congratulations, and for saying I inspire you. That means a lot, because you go way back with The Artist’s Road, all the way back to being one of the readers who nominated me for the Top Ten Blog for Writers Award! (See, I haven’t forgotten!) Yes, there’s a lot to balance in my life, but that’s true for all creatives, right? 🙂


  2. Congratulations, Patrick! This is such an important moment. And, as writers, I think it IS important to note each accomplishment, each step along the way. I’m looking forward to seeing it soon! I’ve loved the other chapters. And thank you for the “shout out.” Very sweet of you.


    1. Sue, what an honor to have you here! You’ve made frequent mentions on The Artist’s Road; I should probably create a “tag” for you, so people can pull up all the mentions at once. You’ll receive a polished version on the 16th, and I hope it lives up to your standards. And of course, simultaneously, I’m drafting the new opening chapter!


  3. Patrick, I remember clearly when I found one of your early posts and it talked about the book you were planning to produce based on your road trip. I wanted to make sure you DID finish the book because I already knew I wanted to read it! The comment exchange we had about it way back then was what made me a fan of this blog. I’m thrilled to be here for the moment when your first draft is finished. And I still want to read your book as much as ever. 🙂 Best of luck with the next phases.


    1. You know, Milli, I can’t tell you how many times the book has changed since we first discussed it. As I mentioned to Sue above, I am also right now completely rewriting the opening. I would say the first 20% or so need to be completely rewritten, and the next 20% pretty substantially written, and there are also some holes to plug along the way. But I feel I’ve got the essentials now: structure, theme, voice, story lines, details included and excluded. You’ll have to wait a bit longer for the final, but I’m getting there! 🙂


  4. Congratulations on this momentous occasion, Patrick! I feel your excitement and am celebrating with you as I celebrate the completion of my own first draft W-I-P memoir after three years. It’s only just begun but it sure feels good to reach this point and it is wonderful to be able to share it with you and my community of writer friends. Best wishes as you move along in your journey. 🙂


    1. Wow, Kathleen, how fantastic! And especially after three years; you have me beat on that! It is a good feeling, isn’t it. For me, it makes the book seem real now, like an actual book, rather than some ongoing project, even though I’m a ways away from it actually reading through like a complete book. Best wishes to you as well!


  5. Oh wow! I’m doing the happy dance for you right here at my computer, Patrick! It is so exciting that you’ve finished a first draft–a huge accomplishment. And can I just say how honored I am to have been one of the first to discover you? I don’t even remember how I came across your blog, but all I can say is, I’m sure glad I did.


    1. A happy dance, eh? I love it!

      For all I know, I found you first, but we found each other, and that is what matters. I’ve got a ways to go before I get to where you are, a novel about to be published, but you’re a role model for me (along with having the MFA and robust teaching work; much to emulate!).


  6. Awesome, Patrick! You are kicking butt and taking names! I remember that first part of your journey . . . tough to take that first step, wasn’t it? But you have people who support you, and want you to succeed. And you are doing it, step by step. Congratulations!!


    1. Hey all, for those who are curious, Amy was one of the artists I interviewed! She’s my second-to-last chapter; I interviewed her in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland.

      Thanks for the encouragement, Amy! I’ll keep plugging along. You remain an inspiration to me, by going back to school and setting a goal to not just be an artist but to live the life of an artist. And you’ve done all of that.


  7. Michele K.

    Congratulations, Patrick! You must have the most wonderful feeling of satisfaction right now. Revel in it!

    It is so inspirational to see someone finishing their draft at this particular time. I have recently resolved to stop waiting for life to make the right time for me to become a writer, and finally just sat down and just started writing. I signed up for NaNoWriMo to keep myself honest and to encourage myself to establish a pattern of writing each day.

    As a “noob” I am already learning a lot, including that the things that I thought would be hard aren’t nearly the stumbling blocks I thought they would be, while others that I never even considered are major hurdles. While I have no delusions that I will truly finish a rough draft in 30 days and I seem to be genetically programmed to be unable to turn off my “internal editor,” I hope at the end of November to have a new habit and the right to say “I’m a writer!”

    Congratulations again!


    1. Thanks, Michele, and congratulations to you as well! I know a lot of people who have done NaNoWriMo and have found it of great value. It seems like a good way to develop some discipline in your writing, find a routine that works for you, and have a method of holding yourself accountable, all while generating a lot of pages.

      For me, I feel I know what routine works for me, and having to produce pages for an MFA advisor provides built-in accountability (although I am a semester away from graduating and won’t have that external deadline on monthly writing then).

      As for calling yourself a writer, you can do that right now. You’ve described steps that a creative takes to live an art-committed life, and you are, in fact, writing every day. So own that label and worry about adding others (“published,” for example) later.


  8. My most sincere and exuberant congratulations, Patrick! I can feel your excitement and it’s contagious. Though I’ve not read your blog from the beginning, your commitment to the art/craft is clear and inspiring. You’re keepin’ your eyes on the prize but, to my eye, doing something even more important: enjoying and being present within the process. I believe you will bring the same freshness (and hard work) to the revision process. In other words, You Go, Dude!


    1. I will, Dude! Hey Terri, thanks for this. You’ve been a great reader these last few months, always quick to engage with a thoughtful comment, and it is appreciated. And I think you and I are in similar places, dedicating ourselves to our creativity after compiling some years making less productive use of that part of ourselves.

      I like your assessment that I am enjoying and being present within the process. I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but that is a good description. I think I have to, though. Too often in life I’ve wanted to live in the future possibility, but I realized when I started this MFA and got serious with this book that it was going to be a very long project. Staying present keeps me from being discouraged, and allowing myself to celebrate this one milestone helps keep me motivated. Although I’m still going. I’m up early this am, having just outlined a new second chapter of the book.


  9. melissacronin

    Yes, Patrick, writing a memoir is a slow process. Yet, each polished sentence means we are that much closer to a polished paragraph, and, ultimately, a polished whole.


    1. Hi Melissa! Yes, you know the process well. My process has been largely to press forward, generating new pages while trying to learn from comments on previous packets and not replicate those mistakes. But at times with various advisors I have gone over the same section multiple times. For me, I needed to figure out what the story was actually about, and I think I have that now. I found it through pressing forward, knowing that a lot of the earlier stuff would either need major rewriting or would need to be tossed entirely.


  10. Congratulations! At some point, I hope you write about “When is enough, enough?” That is, when do you decide to stop polishing and launch it on the world? That’s what I’m facing now on a long novel project.


  11. Love it, Patrick. And congratulations! I know that exhilaration – it is infectious, as I can attest. I feel it here, now, today. Yours. As to the ‘enough’ prompt – it’s one I return to again and again. When is enough? What is enough? How much is enough? All fertile fodder. Maybe our paths will cross when you’re next in Montpelier. The program is lucky to have you!!!


    1. Thank you, Sarah! How great you “caught” my bug. I appreciate your kind words, as well, about VCFA being lucky to have me; I feel it is the reverse, but then everybody wins. And yes, perhaps our paths will cross in VT!


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