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Why Writing “The End” Doesn’t Mean You’ve Finished

on October 2nd, 2010 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill and last modified on December 15, 2010

So exciting, isn’t it, to reach that point in a novel where you type THE END and push away from your desk with a groan or a sigh or a roarin’ approximation of the Rebel yell?

You’ve completed your novel. The story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And you want to bask, just a moment, of course, in the relief and excitement of a job well done.

However…

The job isn’t done. Yes, the first draft is finished, in all its unwieldy glory. But your job as creator isn’t finished. Certainly, your job as editor and rewriter has not yet begun. And your newest masterpiece is ready for neither the public nor your most enthusiastic admirers.

It really isn’t.

You hoped yours would be different, didn’t you? You hoped you’d do in one draft what takes the rest of us four or six or a dozen.

Not gonna happen. Not even if you’re the slowest writer who edits as she writes, painstakingly correcting and changing and deleting and adding…

Nope.

A novel—a quality work of fiction—requires more than a single pass. More than two.

We need to correct plot errors and logic errors and simple errors in word choice. We must condense on one side and fill out on the other.

We need to tighten threads that jolt readers’ emotions and cut out the thread we introduced on page 27 but forgot to continue through the rest of the story.

We must combine characters who serve only one scene and give extended life to the character whose actions offer motivation for our main character.

We polish and cut and rearrange and fuss and fume and laugh and cry and cut some more and add a side plot and rip out our hero’s monologue that makes us cry but does nothing to advance the main plot.

When we type THE END, we’ve reached a resting point, a place where we can breathe, where we remember we have families and spouses and friends, maybe roses that need pruning and cars that need new tires. We can enjoy the non-fictional world and solve problems for those in our lives who bleed blood rather than ink.

But then…

When we’ve rested. And recharged. And made peace with family and friends…

Then we head back into our fictional world and attack our words and phrases with the ardor and the mental acuity of a general who knows exactly how best to move and position his troops to ensure victory. We check out the surroundings and the people we have to work with and we examine timelines, knowing we must get the right flank into place within a particular time frame.

I won’t say that THE END is just the beginning, because it’s very, very far from that. But it’s often, in terms of time and the work still to be done, even farther from the true end.

Revel in the joy of finishing your manuscript. Celebrate the accomplishment. But take out your red pen with that same joy and take another pass—or ten—through your story. Don’t leave it before it’s truly finished.

Make sure THE END doesn’t act as a stop sign to your enthusiasm or to your true goal. Finish the story. Give your rewrites as much time as they need.

Stop when the story is complete, when you’ve succeeded at the writer’s task of penning the best story you’re capable of writing at this stage of your career.

Then THE END will be

THE END

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Tags: ,     Posted in: A Writer's Life, Editing Tips

7 Responses to “Why Writing “The End” Doesn’t Mean You’ve Finished”

  1. Excellent advice. Writing “The End” literally or figuratively is a great morale booster, but typically this is where the hard work begins. I recall Terry Shaw’s comment about finishing a novel. It’s easy, which is why he did it several times — on the same novel. I had a similar experience on my first novel, which is why I’ll be building in lots of editing time once the second is complete.

  2. Kat Sheridan says:

    Oh heavens, I can relate to this. I think I finally screamed “finis” after the 10th revision.

    However, I DID take time for cake as soon as I typed THE END for the first time!

  3. Beth says:

    James, I don’t remember hearing Terry say that, but I’m guessing it’s true for many of us.

    The end is a morale booster. It’s so satisfying to reach that milestone. And it should be celebrated. But I’ve found writers who have no idea there’s much more to their job after that point. Here’s hoping they’ll learn what else is involved and jump into those tasks with as much enthusiasm as they had during the peak of the creative process.

  4. Beth says:

    Cake sounds wonderful to me, Kat. I know I celebrated when I finished that last page on my first manuscript, but I can’t remember what I did. I did want to mark the occasion in a special way. (But whatever I did obviously wasn’t too memorable!)

  5. Jamie C. says:

    Getting to The End is the easy part. Revisions will kill you. At least that’s my experience. I’m still waiting for a perfect first draft. Haven’t created one yet.

  6. Beth says:

    Jamie, if you can tell me how to write a perfect first draft, I’ll help you market the program. Wouldn’t that be a kick?

    Or would we even want this? Then everybody could do it. If everyone does something well, it loses its special attraction and value.

  7. Beth, Terry wrote a Gather article about Finishing a Novel about a month after he won FC1. It was a good read and I suspect it’s still out there.

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