The elusive ending.

As my MFA program winds down, I’m seeing lots of members of my cohort (that’s MFA-speak for “my class”) writing Facebook statuses that look like this:

Joe Schmo has typed the last words.

Jane Doe sending her thesis out, OMG collapsing brb.

BobTodd just typed THE END.

I’m going to be honest. While I’m happy for my classmates and proud of their accomplishments, I’m jealous. The portion of my novel that is acting as my thesis is  complete, but I want to type THE END. And I thought the end was imminent (and not in a Harold Camping kind of way). Two weeks ago I wrote that I was beginning to write the end of the novel, and I was, but here’s the thing – the end of the novel just keeps getting further and further away.

The excellent Phil Lemos (who typed THE END on May 16) recently blogged that he was proud to have finished his novel. He wrote that he had started many novels in his life:

I emphasize the word “start,” because I would always get about 20 pages in before something else would command my attention — birthday parties, homework, the latest comic book — and I would toss the novel aside.

I know the feeling. I have a filing cabinet drawer dedicated to dead novels. Below are a few examples of the things that languish in my little drawer of horrors:

•There’s one novel, written when I was 15 years old, which thankfully petered out by the time I turned 16. I wrote about drinking and drugs and lots of other things I had no experience with as a 15-year-old. As a result of my innocence, bizarre things happen. My characters take one sip of beer and are wasted. Someone walks by a pot smoker and suddenly starts acting as if they’ve been dropping acid. It’s like Reefer Madness, but in the form of a bad novel. I should have thrown this manuscript out when I was in college, but I keep it as a reminder of how bad my writing can be.

•There’s another, almost complete novel, which features dinosaurs and a theme park in a dying Midwestern mill town. It’s a really good science fiction novel, if  I do say so myself, and I’m very proud of it. I hope to salvage it someday by rewriting everything in third person, because it does have some flaws. The biggest flaw?  Michael Crichton already wrote it. It’s called Jurassic Park.

• There’s an action novella (written before Sept. 11) featuring a reluctant member of a domestic terrorist group who is forced to go to Boston in order to  pick up a mysterious package. That piece is almost done. I’ve already written the ending. It’s missing two pages, right between the ending and where I stopped writing. It’s been like that for a decade. Just two pages.

And there’s my real problem, because that’s where I always stop writing. I write the end. I write almost all the way up to the end, and then I stop. I get distracted by life, or, more likely, by another novel idea.

I’ve overcome some of these obstacles. I’ve been dragging my feet creatively for some time, but I’ve stayed strong – I’m writing at least 500 words every day. And last month I knew I must be getting near the end because I came up with a new novel idea, an opening scene and a soundtrack to listen to while writing it. I jotted down some notes and resisted it. I kept on plugging along with my current project.

But now I realize that I’m falling into my old habits. I’ve already written the last page. And I’m trying to close the gap between where I am now – which seems not far from the end – and that final couple of paragraphs. Two weeks ago I thought the end was very, very close. No more than a day or two of writing.

But the more I write, the more it seems like I’m just filling out my daily word count and not advancing the plot. All of a sudden my protagonist heads off to do something completely unrelated to the story. Or stands in a park, musing. Could it be that I’m actually trying not to finish the novel? Am I afraid to say good bye to the characters? It seems more likely that I’m just afraid to finish my draft.

Why? Maybe because  a finished draft brings me one step closer to being accepted, rejected  or ignored by agents, publishers, the reading public and potentially by my friends and family. Or maybe I just like a little self sabotage to spice up my semester.

Or maybe it’s none of those things and I’m just the slow kid in class. It always did take me longer to eat my lunch and finish my math homework.

6 thoughts on “The elusive ending.

  1. Well, I completely understand where you’re coming from. I can never finish anything.
    Maybe you do subconsciously not want to leave the novel. I mean you’ve put all of yourself into it for a while now.
    Keep your head up. I’m sure you’ll be able to finish it. Maybe you just need to take a few days away from it?

    • I think there’s something to be said for not wanting to leave the novel. I have a certain comfort level with my characters and it’s nice to know that I can pull out my Word document and start moving them around and making them do things.

      It’s not unlike how I used to feel about my childhood dollhouse – I always knew I could go up to my room after school and the dolls would be where I’d left them. And that’s what I’m doing with the characters now. I’m playing with them, not writing the novel. At this late stage in the game I can’t allow myself to do that.

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