Endings

Last week as I sat down to do some writing on my current work-in-progress, I looked at my outline, moved around and cut some things that needed moving around and cutting, and realized that I could finish the first draft of the novel in four chapters. How exciting! It was also completely terrifying. Why?

I’ve always had a bad habit of rushing endings. Here’s another insight into the crazy, irrational place that is the writer’s mind (not to mention the average human mind): there’s a groundless fear as I reach the end of any project that I’m somehow not going to be able to finish it. Some unspecified thing will interrupt – my creative ideas stall out before specifying the theoretical problem as my computer exploding or my house burning down or my dropping dead of some sudden, mysterious illness – and I’ll never write that last chapter, that last page, that last paragraph. If I had a little less self-control I would literally be screaming as I furiously type out those ending words, hands outstretched at the keyboard and my head thrown back like a kid on a roller coaster.

But there’s another, slightly less irrational thing that creates angst when writers are approaching their endings, and that’s the transition from potential to actuality. All this time we’ve had ideas living in our heads, where they’re free to glimmer and be fantastic, unencumbered by mundane things like vocabulary, grammar, and the requirements of plot and character development. Nothing in your head is exactly the same as it comes out on the page. Not that it’s impossible to put great things on the page, of course, but they will by necessity differ from your imagination, in that whole Plato’s allegory way. There’s always a certain frustration that the Great American Novel you had in your head has vanished, replaced by this ordinary, concrete, 80- to 100-thousand word manuscript blinking on the screen in front of you, marred by typos you haven’t found yet and soon to be criticized by readers who weren’t in your head and didn’t see that Great American Novel you dreamed up in the first place.

Well, geez! Turn around and look at the fire, already. There’s no solution to this problem (other than not writing and living instead in your own head, which is probably a diagnosable condition) but to sit down and write. Get over the fear of not living up to expectations and work with what actually comes out. Get over the fear of being unable to finish and sit down and finish it. Or in my dad’s words, “Nuthin’ to it but to do it.”

A few days after I drafted this post, I finished the manuscript. 62,000 words. It’s a little short; it could use some expanding. I already know of one scene at the end that was badly rushed and needs to be fleshed out. I’ll put it away for a few weeks, work on something else, then go back and give it a round of editing. Fix those problems caused by rushing. Polish it up – not so that it’s closer to being the idea I had in my head months ago, but so it’s closer to being the best at what it is. Nuthin’ to it but to do it.

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