Well would you look at that!
You know, just in case for some reason you hadn’t seen me brag about this somewhere else.
Yesterday I passed 50,000 words around 9 PM, and today I actually finished the story around 4. The whole novel clocked in at 52,150 words, which I think makes it the longest completed thing I’ve ever written.
And the complete is very important to me. It is hard — it is appallingly, tortuously, mind-bogglingly, exasperatingly hard to finish things. “Endings are hard,” says Chuck on Supernatural. “Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can.”
I can’t even exactly pin down why it’s so hard to finish things. From a purely structural point of view, it shouldn’t be, right? Once the central conflict of the plot is resolved, the story is over. Fin. Drop the curtain, fade to black. Sure, maybe it’ll take some ingenuity on the part of the storyteller to figure out how to resolve the central conflict, but no more ingenuity than creating the rest of the plot, right?
But there’s more to the ending than structure. The ending of a story, the real ending, not only has to tie up the plot but provide some kind of emotional satisfaction and closure. That’s why Stephen King may tell his readers at the end of The Dark Tower, “But endings are heartless …. I’ve written many but most only for the same reason that I pull on my pants in the morning before leaving the bedroom, because it is the custom of the country. And so, I tell you this, you can stop here” — but then he tells us the real ending anyway. Because we need it.
A college friend called it “putting a button on” a scene, or a piece — that final touch, that last moment, that brings home to the audience exactly the point, makes them laugh one last time or catch their breath or what have you. In band in high school, our director told us that the last note of the piece was always the most important, because that was what the audience would remember: minor mistakes earlier in the song would be forgotten if that last note — and the silence after the last note — was perfect.
So the difficulty in finishing things you start, if you’re me, is probably tied up with other issues of perfectionism. It’s hard already to put pen to paper or fingers to keys and write something, because what if it isn’t pefect?! But then you get to the ending and it HAS to be perfect and it has to wrap up all the plots you set in motion and provide closure for the characters and satisfy the readers and if the ending sucks that’s all anyone will remember oh god oh god better just leave it unfinished.
Last year’s (In)NaNoWriMo project really ended in the middle. When I got to 50,000 words, I thought, “Oh, I guess I’d better wrap it up. Here’s a good dramatic cliffhanger to end on!” and I stopped there. (And then was talked into writing extra on the final night in an attempt to push Seattle’s regional wordcount to the top of the scoreboard, just to compound the problem.) I wrote 50,000 words, which was awesome and which I’m still proud of, but I didn’t really write a novel. So this year, my goal was, one way or another, to finish the story. If that meant I ended before 50k, fine — I’d spend the rest of the month writing short stories or something. If that meant I hit 50k and still hadn’t finished the story, then by God I was going to keep pushing myself to get to the end.
And I did. This year, I wrote a novel.
It is not necessarily a good novel, although I think it’s more solid overall than last year’s effort, and it is unquestionably rough, and I may just stick in a drawer and consider it an exercise, part of the 10,000 hours I need to spend before I’m really good at writing fiction. But it is a whole, complete, finished novel.
And that is not the end. That’s just the start.
(Expect a return to more regular blogging fairly soon.)