427 Minus 1 = Zero
My first agent was a gentleman named Barthold Fles. He was seventy years old. When I fictionalized him in The Knowledge, I made him ninety-six. But he was really seventy.
I was twenty-nine at the time, so Bart had me by forty-one years. He was Swiss. He had represented Bertolt Brecht and even Carl Jung. He had seen and done everything.
One day Bart said to me, “How much is 427 minus one?”
I gave the obvious answer: 426.
“No,” said Bart. “It’s zero.”
He was speaking about pages in a novel.
If the full book is 427 and you’ve written 426, you haven’t got 426/427ths.
You’ve got nothing.
The work isn’t ready to be shipped till it’s 427.
I’m working on a new piece of fiction right now and I’m smack up against the finish line. It’s the eighth draft actually, but that’s the big one on this project. When I get this one done, I can say I’m over the hump.
Resistance, of course, is monumental.
So I’m thinking about Bart.
I quit 99.9% of the way through the first novel I tried to write, when I was twenty-four. Everything in my life imploded after that. It took me years to recover.
Like I said, I’m thinking about Bart.
Resistance ratchets itself to fever pitch as we approach the finish of any project. Only one response is possible. We have to assume the full Professional Mindset. Dig deep. Whatever it takes. We have to summon our resources of will and determination and push through.
No matter what, we MUST finish.
When I was interviewing Israeli fighter pilots for The Lion’s Gate, they told me of a concept they called “operational finality.”
The phrase in Hebrew is Dvekut BaMesima.
Mesima is “mission.”
Dvekut means “glued to.”
You and I may not be diving into a swarm of surface-to-air missiles or a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. But we still have to finish page 427. We have to put our bombs on target.
If you’re having trouble crossing that finish line, here are two pieces of good news:
One, you’re not alone. Everybody faces massive Resistance toward the end. It’s the nature of the beast. Like “hitting the wall” in a marathon, that moment of horror always rears its ugly head.
Two, if you can beat that monster one time (I can attest to this absolutely), it will never have the same power over you.
It’ll have power, yeah. But not at the same level.
Beat it once and you can beat it after that every time.
426 = zero.
427 is everything.