Monday, August 2, 2010

The End: A Study of Temporary Satisfaction

What's it like to finish a story for you?

To me there's nothing quite like finishing a first draft, particularly of a novel. Day after day after day, working toward The End - and finally reaching it? A wonderful, electric feeling (though not without a little exhaustion hidden beneath the surface).

Yet even finishing later drafts is interesting. The satisfaction, the energy of it. A week ago I finished the latest draft of my novel in progress and let it out of my hands. There's a thrill in that, in both the finishing and releasing... I find myself, often, with a sort of nervous energy filtering out through my limbs, out to my fingertips, as if they want to keep on tap tap tapping on those keys. It's like a static charge that builds up as you approach the end.

I finished, and found myself walking crazy little circles around the house, bobbing in and out of rooms, picking things up, putting them down, picking them up again. I decided to go for a run. Use that energy. Exercise and exorcise it, in a sense, as it would take awhile to settle down otherwise.

Feet on the pavement. There's a physical release, but there's always that sense of something that approaches meditation. The rhythm and repetition of running, of breathing, creates a calm state. Sort of paradoxical, really: when the body is most alive, most active, the mind is in one of its most settled states.

And part of this state (at least for me) is one of creation, of seeing ahead. And isn't this part of what writing The End is about - writing new beginnings?

There's always something next to write. Already, on that run, my brain started looking ahead to something new. And yet is that strange? There is something to be said for fully enjoying the steps on the way - to revel in that satisfaction that comes with completion.

And yet... writing is about the journey, about discovering something. Whatever ambitions I might have for my finished stories (readers, success, a career, etc.) it always comes back to the writing for me. The process. It's the process I love, the act of creation - of seeking, unearthing, discerning, feeling, shaping.

There's joy in completion, and yet nothing is ever complete. Perhaps I'm merely writing one long and ever-shifting story, a story of my perception of the world (however fantastical). A story that never ends - and without a true ending the true satisfaction has to come from that process, from that transformation of experience, dream and thought into words, into sentences and paragraphs and chapters, into that endless and ever-shifting narrative.

What about you? What is writing The End like for you? How do you react? Does the next thing always call you onward? Or is better to just spend some time binging on champagne and ice cream?

18 comments:

Ted Cross said...

For me it never feels like the end. I reach the end of the first draft and there is a momentary feeling like you described, but then I'm immediately overwhelmed by the concerns of editing. I still haven't figured out how to be satisfied with that.

Anonymous said...

I've actually never finished anything yet.

Which is why I read posts like this, to try and find whatever it is I'm missing that has culminated in hundreds of treatments, concepts, outlines, ideas, WIPS, and a few half-done and then dropped novels.

Anybody have some advice on how to keep interest in a project alive long enough to finish a novel?

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Anon,

Do you write every day? Or have a regular writing schedule?

It seems like a simple thing, but I've found it's very important for me. Take a break and it's harder to get back into the story, to keep writing. The longer the break, the more momentum is halted. The more momentum lost, the harder it is to force my way back into the story.

Writing really regularly helps keep me inside the story.

It also helps to have an idea and story that grabs me, that's complex enough to hold my interest for a long period. I need a strong story idea to get me to start writing, to fuel that writerly momentum.

Plus there's simple doggedness. Sometimes you just have to make yourself write. Whether it comes naturally or not, perseverence is part of writing a novel (or anything long). It's like running. You won't want to do it every day. But you go out and do the miles, and every new mile builds a little something into you. Makes you a little stronger. Maybe not even enough to notice, but it's there. It's accumulative.

Writing's similar. It's about accumulated progress, about the day by day steps rather than the flash of inspiration. Teh big flash of inspiration doesn't last long. You have to run on that slow simmer. Let it smoulder, let the heat linger. It'll build up and burn sometimes, and then fade down again. That's natural. You just can't let it burn out completely. Tend it everyday.

The trick, of course, is that every writer is different. And something that works for one won't necessarily work for the next. But hopefully you can find your way through and discover the process that works for you.

Taryn Tyler said...

I think it was Terry Pratchet who said that the best time to start a new book is right after finishing one, using the energy from the high of the last to throw into the next.

Tom M Franklin said...

Thanks for the spark for a blog entry of my own.

http://bit.ly/bomymO

I see the end of a First Draft as another step in the process. I've written, I've edited, I claim status as Draft One, I send it out to beta readers, I make changes, I resend to readers...

My guess is, should I ever be lucky enough to have anything published, I'll still believe the manuscript needed some further editing.

...

Mira said...

Great essay, Bryan.

I could see you writing a book about writing someday.

I love finishing. I have a certain hum I feel when I finish. It's abit like a high. I can float on that for quite awhile.

Too long, actually. I'm one of those who loves having written more than the process itself, so I'm comfortable hanging out there. Picking up and starting again takes some determination. Either that or bribery. I've been impressed with how well it works to bribe myself. Much more effective than scolding myself for not being more disciplined. Throw in a bribe, and I'm there.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I would like to write a book on writing someday!

It will be just like Stephen King's On Writing.


:)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Taryn,

I can see that. I think my problem is that I'm not focused enough. Or, really, too focused. I get that tunnel vision. Zoned into the story, seeing the end in sight... everything else disappears. The house could be on fire, and I'd be like "Oh, okay, just three more paragraphs..."

I don't think I'd be ready to start anything new, at least not anything major. That needs some planning and new momentum for me.

Mira said...

Bryan,

Re. writing a book like On Writing. Not possible. I can already tell that yours would have some relevant content.

R.S. Bohn said...

I'm like you -- I finish a novel (edits, drafts, so on and so forth) and once it's done, it's done. I am already thinking about what is next, what story to tell.

I'm not sure if that's just the way the mind works, and or if, since I do write every day, I simply cannot be *not* writing, if that makes sense.

Perhaps it's obsession. If so, it's one I'm perfectly happy to have.

Or I wonder if it's personality. I'm not someone to hold onto the past. I'm always looking to the future, if I'm not actively immersed in the present. But once something is past, it's past. That doesn't just apply to writing projects, but everything.

Hm...

Then what about those people who finish a book and don't move on? Who query endlessly, polish the ms some more, and won't "give up" on it, won't start a new one? Is that merely their basic personality, or can they learn to do differently with ease?

Another great thinky post, Ink.

Anne R. Allen said...

Congrats on reaching that moment. If only we could bottle that high. For me it almost makes up for all the lows later on when I re-read my masterpiece (I like to let it sit a month or so) and realize it needs this...and that...and OMG what was I thinking?

The 1980s film "Romancing the Stone" begins with a scene of Kathleen Turner's romance writer finishing her book in a white heat, typing a triumphant "the end", then taking in her real environment--filthy apartment, scruffy clothes, dead plants and nothing to feed the starving cat. I relate.

Deb Salisbury said...

> I would like to write a book on writing someday! It will be just like Stephen King's On Writing.

Oh, no, yours will be far better. You have class and style! I'm looking forward to it.

When I write "The End", I feel like I've just started. Revising will take far longer than the first draft. Though with my first three books, I thought I'd written something brilliant - until I reread them. Will I ever consider them finished? Probably not. But I hope to get to the point where an editor won't let me tinker anymore. ;-)

Elaine AM Smith said...

Congratulations on getting to one possible end.
The process never seems to really end though.
Every time I read anything, whether it is five minutes or five months later, there are always changes I want to make.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice, Bryan. I am terrible at consistent physical exercise as well, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised at not finishing. I'm actually doing better and better, working on this weakness. I think if I keep the idea in mind that it's about consistency and not one grand event, I'll get there. Thanks.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Anon,

No problem.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Elaine and Deb,

Oh yes, the compulsion to tinker...

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Anne,

Ha! No wonder my house is a mess. Time for a Spri... well, um, summer cleaning. Okay, I'm late.

JanV said...

For me, I know the first edit is coming quickly, so I bask for a couple of seconds in the joy of knowing I've made it this far. Then I force myself to get up out of my chair instead of writing anything (even the writing journal entry). I also walk around. If I'm living in a house, I walk out in in the yard and sense that. If I don't, I just go around touching things for the sense of anything not keyboard. Linoleum feels good at a time like this.