Earlier this month, I celebrated the birthday I’ve been dreading for so long. The one with the big “0” at the end. For months, it felt like I was walking the gangplank, getting ever closer to the end as the date approached. Everyone told me that the other side was “incredible” and “better than ever” and I believed them, but still: it isn’t nothing.

It was like having a massive neon sign in my face reminding me of my own mortality. It’s not something I ever consciously forget, and yet: it’s easy to ignore the idea of your own end until a milestone like this appears. It made my breath hitch. I woke in the wee hours of the morning, mulling over my missteps and triumphs, wondering how I could do better.

It’s a good thing. Except for the getting old part.

I must have learned something over the years, because setting a deadline for myself to finish this book by my birthday was the best idea I’ve had in a long time. It gave me something to do with the angst, a place to shovel all my frustration and fear.

I won’t declare that writing is a lark, or a rhapsodic journey, or any of that nonsense, but it’s also not a dreadful chore. This is the only writing I do where I get to choose every word. Not a client, not a colleague. What happens is up to me.

Ok, but what about the deadline?

I didn’t finish the book, whatever that means, but I did finish the first draft. Before my birthday.

116,334 words. A beginning, a middle, and an end.

Cue the party horns!

It’s messy, oh boy. It’s a tangle of words + scenes + dialogue, but the story is there.

My next task is to do a big, massive sweep through the entire thing – re-writing, tightening, trimming – until it’s tidy enough that I can share with a few people without the fear that they’ll throw it back and run away screaming.

I’m giving myself 6-8 weeks for that process. And it continues.

The photo at the top is the Cloud Gate in Chicago, where I spent a fun, chilly birthday weekend wandering around the Art Institute, utterly amazed by all of the beautiful things.