“The hardest thing to is to get started, but the really hardest thing is to finish.”
Hall of Famer Yogi knew a thing or two about wrapping things up — whether a baseball game or a life well lived. I think he’s onto something here. I know that it took me a long time and several false starts to come up with an ending for my children’s novel — and I’m
not even sure I’m there yet.
Why is it that finishing is so tough, whether it’s the last mile of a marathon, the last inning of a baseball game or the last chapter of a book? Do we just run out of gas? If so, then why? you’d think that with the finish line in sight, we’d be highly motivated to keep going and find a last burst of energy. Sounds rational, doesn’t it? Ending with a bang rather than a whimper sounds like the way things should work — but so often they don’t. In pondering this problem, I’ve come up with a few ideas why this may be true — and how we can respond fruitfully:
Finishing means being finished — and that’s scary. I found this out the hard way: As I came closer and closer to ending my novel, my heart rebelled and my mind responded: I kept coming up with more and more scenes and plot problems to fix. After spending so much time with my characters and stories, I was afraid to let them go. What would I do without them? Once I realized the game I was playing, I called my own bluff: I forced myself to take the best idea for an ending I’d come up with and write it from start to finish.
Starting and finishing demand different kinds of energy: When starting a project, you are riding high on the energy of invention and anticipation. You are at your peak creatively: all the spontaneity and discovery your story engenders in you is pouring out. Later, in revision, you have the chance to re-envision what you’ve done and that can be equally exciting, there are still more discoveries to be made. But being in the home stretch calls for another kind of energy: the energy of release. You have to stay focused on your goal while also letting go. I think these two impulses can cancel each other out and stall your progress. The only way I’ve found around this so far is to remember what a friend once told me: “What we release frees us.” When we let go, we are free to find a new mountain to climb. Knowing this can make wrapping things up a bit easier.
We resist being in limbo: Once we’ve finished a project that’s consumed our time and thought, we can find ourselves adrift. Most of us find this uncomfortable and would rather prolong a project than be without one. The easiest way around this is to have something else readily at hand — something we can plunge into with full creativity and commitment.
How about you? Do you find finishing up hard or easy? Have any techniques you’ve found to be helpful? If so, I’d love to hear them. Write on!