The End… Starts Here

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My guess is I am not the only writer on the planet whose hard drive is filled with unfinished pieces of work. And by unfinished I don’t just mean the snippets and fragments of stories that never made it to “The End” and NaNo manuscripts abandoned forever on the 1st December, but completed first drafts and partially worked second or third drafts. Never polished. Never submitted. Never given a chance to shine or be rejected. Forever caught in limbo.

This year I made a commitment to finish writing as many of my unfinished stories as possible.

New Beginnings

It’s been tough, going back over old stories—some very old! I’m very much a person inspired and energised by the potency of the beginning. The middle and the end is always like dragging myself across a carpark laced with broken glass.

To date I’ve picked up five unfinished pieces and completed four. The year is definitely not over yet and momentum is building.

Firefly Epilogue

Firefly Epilogue broke its flash form to settle at 3000 words and is currently under consideration at a local short story comp. If it’s not successful I have another market lined up. It is my first every comp entry and was my first foray into finishing what I’d started. (In fact this story pre-dated the closure of Borders and I think was the final new story I penned there).

Intersected

I reworked the opening section of one of last year’s NaNo shorts (in itself an unfinished project reaching only 20K of the allotted 50K and three stories of the intended 10) to create the vignette Intersected, published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal #2. It’s the only piece of fiction written during NaNoWriMo to ever seen the printed light of day (proving failure is only what you make of it).

Byrthed

At the beginning of the year I committed to complete my (then unnamed) birthpunk novella. That commitment morphed into a novel-length work. Byrthed is currently two chapters in and is about to pick up some serious speed as long-standing projects come to their own conclusions.

Elyora

The unfinished story Elyora, based on a dream I had in August last year, went from 5,000 words to a novella of 28,000 words. Submitted at the end of June, it is currently under consideration with Review of Australian Literature as part of a special Rabbit Hole edition. If it is unsuccessful – the part two of the publishing plan has already been set in motion. I’m also keen to see if I can adapt it for the screen.

Indigo

Last, but not least (well for now) there is Indigo, a story that has truly weathered my creative storm over the past year. It is my contribution to the From Stage Door Shadows anthology (formerly Tiny Dancer). It’s a story that meandered through five very different incarnations and premises, multiple settings, multiple characters, multiple sub-genres and multiple versions of the same bloody story (one particular scenes was redrafted ad nauseum).

I honestly thought I didn’t have it in me to finish it. Sometimes you just need to look at something and know it is just not going to work and step away. I was ready to let it slide (though kept writing it on my to do list in my diary.) In fact it was the act of letting it go I think that sparked my resolve to finish it. That and the knowledge I was having my first real life book launch in September and for the first time, a Literary Mix Tapes anthology would not contain a story from me. Oh, and the fact a week ago the underlying theme for the story slid in beside me on the drive to the fish and chip shop.

There were whoops of joy when I penned the final scene yesterday afternoon and another round when a tighter second draft found its way to beta readers before dinner last night. But I’m aware, I’m still a long way from finishing. Beta comments and edits to consider, rewrites, more rewrites…

It doesn’t matter though. Indigo makes me feel like I can do and achieve anything. It’s probably not the best story I have ever written. But it’s a story that proved my metal as a writer. Proved I could keep going when all felt like it was lost.

Not only did I make it to the end but the final story is faithful to the concept that sparked it…The Living End lyrics: The ending is just the beginning repeating. How very meta!

In The End

Sometimes you just need to adopt a different way of thinking. Sometimes endings need to become beginnings. And sometimes you just need to turn the music up loud and stop thinking too hard. Or go get take-away.

If you could pick up one unfinished story/manuscript/poem from your hard drive, what would it be? What would be the pay off for you, for finishing it? What’s stopping you?

10 thoughts on “The End… Starts Here

  1. It’s like running around a track; you cross the line having finished one lap and start another. Putting one foot in front of the other.

    • That is such a brilliant analogy… and from someone who is as allergic to physical exercise as I am.

      Perhaps for me it’s the idea of freeing myself from the lap track… so go run in the wilderness for a bit, get lost, get angry, find my way again, and finally make it to the end, wiser, stronger and more resilient.

  2. Love the comment Adam. Very apt for myself right now. Rewrites feel like that. Honing your route around a course over and over until you get it right.

    Jodi, your writing direction this year appears very similar to mine. Many of my fiction projects are based around old ideas, honing them and finding the right format for each piece. I heard an amazing lecture by Tony Birch yesterday at uni and he was so unapologetic about the short story form. His novel Blood was inspired by a short story of his that he wanted to take further and he gave backing to my method of taking the guts of a failed longer project and writing short stories out of them. I did that with my Nothing But Flowers story and again with my story Flaggers that I’m hoping to send out for the Overland prize. That was based on a novella that seemed diluted at a much larger length. And now I want to go back and work on older ideas that failed and that I have a better grasp on at the moment.

    Glad to see you’re getting so much writing done.

    • You make a really interesting point Ben – about length (about finding the ‘right’) length.

      I wonder how many of the projects/stories/poems/novels/scripts we abandon along the along the way are because we’re trying to force a round block into a square hole. I was trying to make Firefly Epilogue fit a flash fiction frame. As soon as I let it go, the story just grew, developed and became a truly beautiful story – one very authentic to the original idea I had for it.

      Elyora too – was never just going to be a short story, it was never going to be contained here – but at the same time it didn’t have enough legs for a full blown novel. It seems for me a lot of the time it’s about finding the right length… and letting go of the things I’m precious off (a scene in a lighthouse in Indigo… that was never going to work. A best friend who is pure and perfect who does the right thing.

      I know “Empty Shelves” is a really powerful story with a very potent message in it. One that perhaps was diluted in a longer form?

      I have always said there is no bad ideas… there’s always just poor timing. And I would add to that now – the wrong length, the wrong confines.

      I’m so happy to be doing so much more writing… and much more to come. It’s like the square peg finally find the correct square hole to ease into.

      • I think lots of outside things make us feel like we should perhaps put things in packages that don’t fit. Say, how many people think that the short story is a stepping stone to a novel and therefore people think that they need to write one. I think we should allow ourselves to change, perhaps even write multiple versions. Birch’s short story was published but then he expanded it to make a novel as well so perhaps Empty Shelves will later become the novel it once was – with a bit of timing.

        I definitely agree that it’s about timing and I don’t give up on many ideas, just let them sift to the back of my head and they return when they’re read of their own accord.

      • Margo Lanagan’s “Sea Brides” started off as a novella and was grown into a novel. I love it because it is the best of the novella, the short story and the novel… collected in one volume but weaving and building one what has come before. Right up my alley.

        I’d love to see a longer version of Empty Shelves… the world you’ve created there is awesome and deserves further exploration. Speaking of which – that’s my next project – the world building for Byrthed.

  3. I have heaps of first and second drafts and unfinished stories! I stop usually because a new idea clamours to be written or life interferes and when I come back I’ve temporarily lost the spark. The one I want to polish and submit most centres on the consequences of taking the right to bodily integrity away from women ;).

    • Birthpunk, Stacey?

      This whole process of reviving old stuff has taught me if there was a spark there originally, you can build it up again. It might be entirely the same spark as the original, but a spark none the less.

      There is a story called “Second Chance” I’d love to go back and get into. I stopped writing it because I didn’t know how to finish the damn thing. There’s also a character called “Sam” who is just trying to get the hell out of the small town his mother has dragged him into. I see lots of similarities in Pipers Reach – funnily enough.

  4. Revising my work is the hardest part to do; I have this habit of being really excited about the story while I am writing it and then just leaving it for far too long before going back to it for the edits and final revisions.

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