I don’t know if this has happened to any of my fellow authors out there, but I seem to have a dilemma every time I write. It doesn’t matter whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, short story or novel, lengthy instructions or a brief booklet.
The problem is this: I usually don’t know how to end things.
Yes, I’ll write, and write, and write, and write, happily breezing through the middle portion of a work-in-progress. I may have a little challenge with the opening chapters, but at some point, a brilliant (or so I think) way of introducing my book comes to me. Sometimes, I’ll even write something “out of order”, just so that I can capture the ideas that are already in my mind, bypassing all of the stuff that needs more time. It all sounds great when I’m in the “flow”. But then, I get to the end of the book, and I have a hard time wrapping things up.
You can probably even see my difficulty with “ending things” here on the blog. I enjoy sharing my world and telling you all about what I’m loving at the moment. So when I get to the end of the post, I often don’t know what to say. How do you bring proper “closure” to anything when you aren’t really ready to say goodbye? (On a side note, this is a recurring theme in my life, so the deep dive into this is necessary on multiple levels. Back to the conversation at hand . . . )
I think my reluctance to write the last chapter of any of my works in progress comes down to the inability to say goodbye easily. I never want the fun to end, or to part ways with something that I enjoy. So, ending a book – especially books where I absolutely adore the main and supporting characters – is like losing a good friend. Yes, I can always allow the characters to have more adventures by writing secondary books, but something about that first work with a set of characters is just . . . special. It’s as beautiful as a first kiss, or seeing the sunrise for the first time. Nothing compares to it.
I long to freeze those beautiful moments and never let them go. But alas, the only constant in life is change, and even the best works-in-progress do me no good if I don’t eventually write a suitable end for them, so that those books can eventually be read and loved by others. So, my challenge is to learn to let go and to give my books the beautiful endings that they deserve.
I have my work cut out for me in the next few weeks. For the works-in-progress that I have now, I’m concentrating on just writing the endings, even if I hate what I’ve written. The goal isn’t to make the ending perfect, but to just GET IT DONE, so that I can edit it later and make it better. The children’s books are easy: they’re formulaic, so the same ending is used repeatedly but just tweaked a bit here and there. But the novels and self-help/personal development books I’m working on definitely need an ending that is befitting. However, I won’t get to those perfect endings until I write imperfect endings first.
For future works, maybe I should try writing the endings first. I recall that there was a story (told second- or third-hand) about a person visiting actor Will Smith, who had the plot for a movie written out onto a bunch of index cards that he arranged on a storyboard. According to the person telling the story, Smith said that the easiest part of the story was the end, because he always started there, and basically reverse-engineered the story until he had the middle and beginning parts.
I think that writing the ending of a book before writing anything else would be a good exercise for me, even though I’ve traditionally disliked writing this part. Perhaps my comfort with endings will grow if I focus on making those as special and beautiful as the rest of the story will be . . . Hmm, it’s a thought.
Have you ever had a difficult time coming up with the ending of a book you’ve written, or in any other written work? I’d love to hear how you grew past that challenge in the comments below!