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.
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 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).
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).
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.
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.
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?