Finishing The Hat

Sitting here in my kitchen, early in the morning on publication day, there is much to contemplate. The Paris Hours arrives into the world today. I’ve done this enough times to know that even in ordinary circumstances, publication day can be something of an anticlimax. This day that has been emblazoned on your psyche for months finally arrives – and, incredibly, life goes on as normal. 

In more normal times, at least on publication day authors could at least wander into a bookshop and enjoy the thrill of seeing their book on the shelves for the first time, but during the pandemic we can’t even do that. There are no launch parties, no book tours. (Although I will be raising a virtual glass to the book this evening at 7:00 p.m. CST and chatting online with Will Schwalbe about the book. Join us here.)

All of that fun stuff sometimes feels like a reward for the years of lonely work that goes into writing a novel, but its absence this time around has served as a useful reminder of what’s important. There’s a world of difference between writing a book and publishing a book – and it’s the writing that I love.

I love telling stories. I love the challenge of getting what is in my head out on to the page. I love wrangling characters, words, and plotlines. I love the act of creation. My favorite Stephen Sondheim song, Finishing The Hat, has the lyric, Look, I made a hat/Where there never was a hat. I find quiet satisfaction in a stack of paper with my words on every page: look, I made a story. 

In the lead up to publication it can be very easy to lose sight of all that. Good reviews and appearances on “Best Of” or “Most Anticipated” lists are thrilling, and I’m grateful for every one of them, but what matters about being published is that you get the privilege of sharing your story with others. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do that on a scale that I never would have dreamed of when I first sat down, cracked my knuckles, and pecked out a sentence.

I’ve begun my next book, but I haven’t written anything for a while. I need space in my head to do that, and there’s been precious little of that recently. But today serves as a reminder that I need to start writing again. I have another hat to finish.

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