Writing is a way to immerse ourselves in a world completely under our control. I can journey with words anywhere I can imagine. It’s like a vacation that lasts as long as I let it.
Even the destination is my choice--and the act of completion is an integral part of the writing process. No matter how much I might like to avoid endings, they are a necessary step in improving my writing ability. Writing beginnings and middles feels natural to me, as I am swept along by possibility. I’m a bit like Bilbo Baggins, I suppose: I live it, I write it, and I only part with my story when the end is inevitable and necessary (or a deadline looms!).
An ending puts, well, an end to the writing journey. It is a long-term commitment, a resolution to a story I may not want to resolve. Once I’ve committed, any revision I do will ideally be more about fine-tuning what is already in place rather than creating something new.
But what about those times when the ending you’ve written is all wrong? What if you can't think up an ending at all?
You could wait for inspiration to strike. Or, you could explore some options that are entirely within your realm of control. Here are four strategies for helping you conceive of and create a just-right ending:
Go back to the beginning
As with a thesis statement, we often leave ourselves clues for where we intend to land when we set sail with writing. Looking back at your opening lines can remind you of where you and your characters have been, what changes took place, and how you might steer toward the most meaningful conclusion. In other words, seek the existent, organic inspiration, but failing that…
Use deadlines and journals
Deadlines are generally external (set by an editor), but that doesn’t mean you can’t schedule a deadline for yourself. It can be hard to hold yourself accountable, so you might consider journaling about your process and goals. Writing down your challenges is often helpful in working through them (especially for us writers!), and of course, putting goals into writing helps us visualize and act on them. And if you struggle with holding yourself accountable...
Consult your fellow travelers
Writing with a buddy is a great way to create accountability beyond your own journal. Writing with a group is fantastic. Writing groups give you more points of accountability. Feedback from multiple readers can be a stabilizing hand on the steering wheel when the way is unclear. Not to mention, community is a writer’s best friend, because what comes after one story ends? New ideas and projects, and maybe even submissions. Establishing yourself within a network of other writers opens all sorts of doors, which is to say, this method of finding an ending may reward you with new beginnings.
Still not sure you’ve found the method that speaks to you? Dig that journal back out and take 20 minutes to list as many potential endings as possible. Don't worry about which ones are feasible or not, or even if they make sense. Just enter the head space of your story, its characters and plot and main tension, and let your intuition wander. Once you have a list, categorize them by options that feel reasonable and ones that don't. Play with an ending that intrigues you, even if it feels impossible. Write an ending, any ending at all, and be curious about how it fits and doesn't fit with your existing story. The process of exploratory writing if often the scenic route to the destination you seek.
What challenges you more--beginnings, middles, or endings? Have you or will you use any of the strategies Shawna suggests for arriving at the perfect ending? Share with us in the comments!
Related reading: Know and grow your writing inspiration
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