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Endings

December 22, 2016

JUDY CUMBERBATCH


I’ve always thought that the most difficult part of writing a story is getting the first chapter right. It must draw the reader in, give them enough information but not too much, create a memorable setting, bring the characters alive and give the plot enough impetus to hold the reader’s interest and make sure they continue to the next chapter.


20161222_000705_resizedHowever over the last couple of weeks I’ve been wrestling with ending a book. I don’t mean finding the perfect end, the twist that will make sense of the rest of the book or the right way to resolve the story. No, I mean ending the writing process, taking my hands off the keys and telling myself that I have finished this particular piece of writing; it is time to move on to something else.

I find it a very difficult thing to do.

I have been made particularily aware of this on my most recent project, as it has been a collaboration. The person, I have been working with, comes from a very different background, with a much more pragmatic approach to writing.

So when is a story finished?

I suppose, in my head, I have the notion of the perfect, a piece of writing so polished, that it cannot be improved upon in any way at all. I tell myself that this is what I am working towards, as I edit and re-edit, write and rewrite, change, punctuate, delete, copy and paste over and over again,

At the same time, I also tell myself that every deletion and rewrite is an additional guarantee that the story will not only be accepted by a publisher but go on to win the Carnegie Book Award and be picked up Disney and turned into a multi-million pound franchise. To ensure, a bidding war among publishers, all I have to do is rewrite a particular phrase or sentence, even if the rewording is merely changing an ‘and’ to a ‘but’. I am therefore loathe to let the work go, in case I have missed that surplus adjective in the fourteenth chapter in my frantic reading and rereading of the text -a suplus adjective that will spoil any chance of getting it published.

Of course, I am deluding myself in all this.

There are other reasons for delaying finishing.

By refusing to accept that a piece of writing is ready to be read by others, I am postponing any critical reaction or rejection. Every re-edit is a precious moment gained, in which I can avoid sending the story off to my agent and getting a negative response.

The writing process is full of hope. At the start, you hope the story will come alive sufficiently for you to stay with it. As you continue writing, you hope it will be enjoyed. At the finish, you hope it will be published, be reviewed and be a success.

But once you have packaged a story and sent it off, reality sets in. You can still hope but there is nothing more you can do. Except accept the probable rejection when it comes as sanguinely as possible.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Buzz About Books permalink*
    December 22, 2016 10:32 am

    This all rings so true. It is frustrating when people say to me “Are you STILL working on that little book”. At least you, Judy understand and so do other fellow-writers. The only bit that I don’t want to agree with is the bit about rejection. I’m still going to keep positive, although I do know exactly what you mean, but I’m going to carry on regardless!

  2. Rachel Summerson permalink
    December 22, 2016 6:42 pm

    Commiserations, Judy, I understand how you feel. I think Shakespeare got it right – though, admittedly, he was writing plays and not novels – he always took care to end on an up. The stage might be littered with corpses, as in ‘Hamlet’ say, but then Fortinbras comes in and says, ‘Bear Hamlet like a soldier from the stage…’ and sorts things out. He re-asserts the moral order so that life can move on.

    So, for me, I like endings where the readers know that important things have been learnt (even if it doesn’t end happily), and the characters are now in a new place.

  3. January 5, 2017 4:48 pm

    I think I know what you mean, Judy. When I start a new piece of work, there’s an image in my head of the perfect book but when it’s finished I always want to tweak it. I guess we have to live with some amount of imperfection, but not too much.

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