I never realized, before now, how easy it is to start writing a book and forget that at some point you are actually going to have to finish writing it.
Of course we all know that books have beginnings, middles, and ends. Of course we know all our stories eventually have to conclude. But often when we jump on an idea for a story we don’t necessarily always know the ending. We know certain parts of it or maybe even just one key event that fits somewhere in the narrative, though we might not even be sure where.
All stories must end. But not all writers enjoy the whole road to the ending.
Toward the home stretch, writing begins to feel like a race to the conclusion of a very long jog. You just want to get it done. You crave that sense of relief, that moment of, “I temporarily do not have to worry about this.”
But endings come with their own challenges. And joys. And anxieties.
I haven’t technically published a book, I’m not a professional in the sense that I’m qualified to give you credible advice on how to get your book in the hands of an agent or publisher or anything like that. But what I do know a lot about, from my own experiences, is everything that comes along with being a writer — from the struggles to the triumphs and everything in-between. Of course, because, I have been a writer, worked as a writer, I have written, people have read my things.
That is why I can only say that from what I know, reaching the end of a big writing project is not at all a slow crawl. I imagine it is something much closer to what it would be like if you attempted to ski slowly down a slope only to realize this was never an option in the first place and you just end up flying the whole way down whether it’s what you intended to do or not.
The closer I get to finishing a big project — let’s just call it a book — the harder I struggle to pull myself away from it. It’s a callback to the early days of working on the same project, where the excitement and wonder of the shiny new thing I was building was interesting enough to hold my attention for hours on end, day after day.
All I want to do is sit down and keep writing, uninterrupted, until it’s done. I have no idea exactly how much more I have to go. I just know I’m too close to turn back. And that’s thrilling. I almost can’t breathe.
Sometimes the key to finishing a project is to get yourself just close enough that your brain can’t convince you to stop going for it. Why stop now? You’re almost there. You’re so close you can already sense what it is going to feel like when you are done for real.
The thing about inching closer toward the finish line is that it’s not all giddiness and glee. For many writers, there’s actually a lot of sadness that comes with approaching the end of something you have fallen in love with over the past few months/years.
You’re not exactly sad that the experience is ending. It’s more like feeling disappointed that you’re one step closer to having given this story all you can give it.
At some point, ideally, a story either has to live beyond you or fade away.
But those aren’t isolated events. You don’t just finish writing a book, shrug your shoulders and move on to the next big thing without being impacted, in some way, by what you have written. That is, after all, how you know it is a story worth sharing. If it has moved you, it will move others. You must let go of it so someone else can pick it up.
What no one tells you about writing a book is that by the time you get to the end of it you are a different person than you were when you started it.
This is something I never knew, not in the many years before this one that I have written books and attempted to write books and published stories and showed people my words.
You don’t ask for a story to change you, it just happens. It is the side effect no one ever thought to make a warning label for, the consequence you don’t necessarily accept but can’t bring yourself to reject either.
Endings don’t hurt because the journey wasn’t worth it, they hurt because it was.
I have been thinking a lot, over the past few weeks, about how many times the story I have been writing has brought me to tears. How angry it has left me. How hopeful. I am often hesitant to place the burden of my Big Emotions on other people, especially those I don’t know well, but when I am writing fiction in my own private space, I feel all those feelings, and those feelings triggered by my work fuel more emotionally-driven work, and that, I hope, is how I will reach people. Somehow. Someday.
But first I have to find the end. I have to keep moving forward until I stumble across it. As it always happens, at first I will not believe I have done it. I will check several times. And then I will celebrate.
You should always celebrate crossing a finish line. No matter how small your achievement, you have just accomplished something amazing, and you should be proud.
You not only made the conscious decision to give an idea space to grow outside your mind, but also didn’t settle for just watering it once and leaving it to its own devices. You tended to it day after day, month after month. You neglected it some days, sure, when life just became too much for a stretch. But you came back to it. You never gave up on it. You persisted. And you reached the end. All you. No one else. You.
You did that. All of that. You started it. And you stuck with it. And you finished it.
That is, whether your frantic, tired brain wants you to believe it or not, a truly amazing thing.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.