Friday, September 9, 2011

Stick a Fork in It

I'm done--such deceptive words. Is the end ever THE END? We all know a story goes on after the final word. If I like a book, my pace slows, and I savor every word, reading at the speed of an inebriated snail [an escargot]. This draft of a new WIP doesn't yet have an ending. The closets needed organizing [three times]. The university Mock Trial Team needed a kick-off party. Shell needed six walks yesterday and her toy bin reorganized three times.

As a painter, I step away from a painting when a chill comes over me. Seriously, the muscles in my upper body quiver. I sense the painting's done. I walk away, pleased, ready to begin a new one--which reminds me of a lyric from Semisonic's song Closing Time: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end..." Maybe none of those paintings are finished. Maybe their endings are only the beginning of a future painting.

Do y'all think we ever finish our stories? Similar themes, situations, places reemerge because we aren't ever ending anything? Are we all end-o-phobic?

The ending of this new WIP is driving me batty. The end is near--it's called a deadline. Maybe the end's buried somwhere in Chapter 18. Anyway, at least the apartment's organized.

So, how do you know when you're finished? When's your story over? What makes an ending, an ending?

The End.


  1. Oh, my, Mellisa, the angst of it all. Does the ending circle back to the beginning? How is the promise of the first page fulfilled on the last?

  2. Problem solved...for today, anyway. An ending wiggled its way into my dreams. And the ending does circle back to the beginning. It feels best right now. Back to the trenches. Thank you, Claire!

  3. Sometimes as writers we reach an endpoint in the story development where we're personally "finished" with the story. We've given that story world all we can and so our interest in it may wane, for the moment at least. Unfortunately, this moment may or may not coincide with when a story is finished as in ready for publication. But we can always come back, rested and refreshed and fall in love with the story again.

  4. So true, Cheryl! Some days I hate a WIP but write anyway. Others? I don't leave the study for 12 hours. I love the promise that we all can return to a story--and walking away is sometimes best, for writer and characters. :0)

  5. I'm reminded of Anne Lamott's great answer to this question in *Bird by Bird*, where she compares finishing a manuscript to putting an octopus to bed. And how sometimes, just when you think you've got all the arms under the covers, another one breaks free.

    "This will probably happen while you are sitting at your desk, kneading your face, feeling burned out and rubberized. Then, even though all the sucking disks on that one tentacle are puckering open and closed, and the slit-shaped pupils of the octopus are looking derisively at you, as if it might suck you to death just because it's bored, and even though you know that your manuscript is not perfect and you'd hoped for so much more, but if you also know that there is simply no more steam in the pressure cooker and that it's the very best you can do for now--well? I think this means you are done."

  6. Lamott's book is a perm. denizen on the nightstand. The last several months have taught me that all I can do is the best--and that has to be just fine for that moment. That's all any of us can do. And you know what? That's just fine--no matter what anyone else may think. A great reminder from a great writer! Thank you, Peter!