Endings are tough.
I know the cliché saying is “middles are difficult”, but many writers struggle when it comes to tying a bow on a piece of work and calling it finished. This can be a tricky issue, but there are few strategies I employ when I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Perfect is The Enemy of Good
I was in a rock band many moons ago. It lasted roughly four years, and in that time I think we played only two shows. We spent our practices writing, and changing, and then re-writing, the same 5 songs ad nauseam. I didn’t know any better at the time, but we were totally stifled by perfectionism.
It’s easy to keep working on a piece of art forever. It has many benefits like the comfort of familiarity, and avoiding criticism or rejection by your audience. Eventually, perfectionism can become perhaps the WORST negative trait for any artist. It roadblocks the entire creative process, stalling you from completing anything. Next thing you know, you go from being a writer to being that person (you know the one) who tells everyone they are “still working on their novel”.
I adopted a philosophy from my musician days and apply it to my writing: All artists make mistakes. It’s better to complete work, and grow with each successive project, than obsess over something unfinished forever.
Revision and editing is where the “real writing” gets done, or so they say. It also tends to be the point where most writers start fretting over the ending of their story. First drafts are easy to finish, because you slap “The End” on it, and blissfully throw it into a desk drawer or Dropbox folder for a few weeks for no one else to see.
“The End” isn’t really the end.
At some point, you’ll revise your work to the point where it’s “good enough” (just reading that sounds mediocre, right?) to achieve your goal. Whether you want to self-publish, query an agent, or just post it on your blog, your piece will hit a quality threshold where it’s ready. The key is to keep raising that quality bar as your writing improves over time.
Since revisions don’t suffer from “diminishing returns”, and can actually begin to harm a good piece of writing once the second-guessing of perfection begins, how do you gauge when it’s ready? That leads me to my next point.
I don’t care if it’s family and friends, a writer’s group, or your local librarian, but you have to get feedback on your work. You’ll never know something is ready, or that you’re improving if you don’t take that (admittedly scary) step. You need a baseline to grow from, and evaluate where the real issues are with your writing.
I joined the site Critique Circle, and it’s been helpful getting semi-anonymous critiques from other writers. It also has the happy side-effect of sharpening my editing/writing skills through critiquing the work of others.
The key is making sure you get feedback from multiple sources. Don’t take one opinion at face value, whether they loved it or hated it. Get a number of opinions and search for patterns: “I don’t like the protagonist”, or “This ending made no sense”. If multiple people voice the same concern, there is probably an issue that needs fixing.
My personal benchmark for being “finished” is when I no longer receive comments about grammatical or structural issues. If someone doesn’t like the content I’ve written, I shrug it off as a matter of taste. My work isn’t for everyone. It’s at that point I say “good enough” and move the piece to whatever the next phase may be.
Do you struggle with completing your work, or never feeling like it’s perfect? Remember that “perfection” is a fallacy, and unachievable.
If you have any advice or personal strategies you use to help finish your writing projects, share them in the comments. I’d love to hear about them!