Today I’d like to say a brief word about endings.
We hear a lot about beginnings, and how difficult/important they are.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)
“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” (Plato)
“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” (T.S. Eliot)
“For fucksake just sit down and start writing.” (Me, every day)
Yup, it’s difficult to start a new page, a new chapter, a new project. But what I’ve been learning recently is that it’s almost harder to finish.
I’ve been working on a novel for some years now. It’s had a number of false starts and setbacks, countless revisions, and many months of sitting unattended in a bottom drawer. I have found it beyond difficult to finish it. Carving out the time. Following through. Writing every day, or at least on a semi-regular basis. Ridding myself of sky-high expectations and perfectionism. I’ve struggled with all these things.
But I’m nearly there. A few more hours and I think it’s done, apart from a good edit and proofread. So today I took a huge step. I reached out to my book club and asked if any of them would be willing to act as beta readers; “test” readers of my unpublished novel, who will offer feedback from the casual reader’s point of view.
Beta readers don’t replace a good editor; they are simply a form of quality control, helping writers identify areas in their manuscripts that may need a bit of tidying up/revision before the general public reads them.
So I’m nearly there. And it’s scary.
I could keep polishing and refining and redrafting and changing for many more months. But quite frankly, I’ve had enough. I don’t think my novel’s perfect. I think it’s good; not earth-shattering. But I want to finish and publish it and get on with other projects. I have a collection of short stories waiting in the wings, half-finished, and quite frankly I think it’s better than the novel. So, it’s time.
Letting of of our babies, nurtured and tended and grown in the comfort of our solitary writer bubbles, is hard. It would be so much safer to keep my manuscript private. I would avoid judgement, and the risk of “failure” (whatever that means; quite frankly I think that anyone who finishes an 82,000-word book has succeeded on a rather monumental scale). And it’s a bit more than that. For years, this work has been mine. I conceived it. I grew it. I lay in bed at night and thrilled at the wonder of creating something. I cried as I wrote some scenes. Laughed at others. It means so much to me, because even though it’s not perfect, it’s my heart on the page.
And now I have to share it with others: others who will bring their own experiences and interpretations to it. It won’t be mine anymore.
It’s similar, in a way, to letting your children grow up and then fly the nest. Eventually you have to give up control and send them forth.
But with every necessary loss comes gain. Finally, finally, I can invite people to see a piece of my heart, and hopefully, to find their own meaning and joy and sadness and enrichment in the process.
And so my ending is their beginning. Which brings me to one last quote:
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” (Seneca)