We made it!! It’s the last full week in January and this month I’ve tried to explore every facet of being “stuck” in our writing process. As a reminder, we’ve looked at:
- What it looks like when writers are stuck
- The struggles of being stuck at the start of a project or even just your writing sessions
- Murky middles and how to get past them
- And today I’m digging into what it’s like to be stuck at the end
(For even more, check out my Instagram Stuck Series Highlights)
It seems strange to think of being stuck at the end. After all, we spend all our time writing towards those two little words. But the end can be a daunting thing to get to not to mention the completion of a draft is just the beginning of the next phase: revision.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.Seneca the philosopher (and also Semisonic in Closing Time, which will forever hold a special place in this college class of 199shhhh’s heart!)
How do you know when your story ends?
Let’s take a look at Cinderella. She marries the prince and they “lived happily ever after.”
I mean, maybe they did, but did NOTHING ELSE ever happen to her? Wasn’t she like a teenager in that story? Marrying Prince Charming certainly ended the story of her orphaned and indentured servitude to an evil stepmother and her horrible daughters. But before that, she had a story with her father after her mother’s death that ended when he married that detestable woman. And she had another story of her childhood that ended the moment her mother died.
Marrying Prince Charming was the end of a story for Cinderella, but also the beginning of another. Did they have children? Did she organize protests in support of other indentured servants in the kingdom? Did she become a veterinarian caring for all the animals at the palace? Did she press charges against her stepmother to ensure she never treated another girl the way she treated Cinderella? Did she write a tell-all after a royal scandal? I mean, the possibilities are endless and happily ever after doesn’t begin to cover it.
Look at your own story this way. There should be a pivotal moment that has resulted in a fundamental change in your character somehow that could also be the kicking off point of another story or journey for your character (I’m not necessarily talking about a sequel here, but more in general). That is your end.
Okay, so, now that you know you’ve reached the end, what does being stuck at the end actually look like?
- Not knowing how to end the story. You just keep writing and writing and piling up word count
- Not knowing where to begin the revision process
- Being stuck in a revision loop of feedback, revise, feedback, revise…
- Not knowing when a book is “good enough”
These can be paralyzing feelings for a writer. And sometimes the place where the writer, who has come so far with their craft or this particular story, gives up.
If you aren’t sure how to end your draft, have a plan before you start. And if you’re already halfway or more through, stop. Go back and look at your character’s motivation and stakes, consider the point you were trying to make when you set out to write, and make a plan now. It’s never too late for planning. Knowing your character’s arc of change will keep you on track and show you exactly how a story should end. There is an inevitability to your character’s story based on their actions–pay attention to it and you’ll naturally find your way to the end.
If you aren’t sure where to begin the revision process, revise with intent. Read your draft with a critical eye and prioritize big picture fixes first (structure, character arc, character motivation, stakes, etc). Pick one big issue to fix at a time and go through your manuscript for those elements methodically. SAVE THE LINE EDITS FOR LAST!
If you find yourself stuck in a feedback/revise loop, learn to rely on your writer gut. Feedback is important at a variety of places in the writing process but, at some point, you may become dependent on it. If you constantly send out your manuscript to critique partners or beta readers or your third grade teacher who encouraged you to write and then trying to make changes to appease all of their feedback, then you send that version out again, you may be in a revision loop. Seek out feedback but then analyze it with YOUR critical writer eye. Does the feedback serve the story you are trying to tell? Does it make YOUR story better? Does it point out a problem but you don’t like the suggested fix? Trust your writer gut. It will also tell you when it’s time to stop seeking feedback and take the plunge to query or submit your work.
If you don’t know when your story is “good enough” to take to the next step, remember to not let perfect be the enemy of good enough. Especially if you’re a debut author. Previously unpublished writers do have a higher bar to clear in terms of their writing as they seek an agent BUT that doesn’t mean your book has to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be. When you sign an agent, they may have changes for you to make. Once it’s sold to an editor, they will definitely have changes for you to make. Yes, polish your book to a high shine but understand it will still need buffing later if not another wash cycle. In other words, there is no real end to the process, so find where your story is the best you can make it right now and know there will be others coming along to help make it even better later.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that sometimes we get stuck at the end because our fear starts to hold us back. The end means we are closer to sharing our work with the wider world and that can be scary for a lot of different reasons. Our internal systems will want to protect us from the saber tooth tiger of criticism. If writing is an act of vulnerability, and I believe that it is, sharing that writing is even more so. Remind yourself to be brave. You are a writer. And eventually, a writer will be read. And the best part? Once you’ve reached the end, you get to start a new story!
May your happily ever after be just the beginning.