Why endings are excruciating

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Endings are hard. To be more precise, writing the endings of first drafts is excruciating. They’re the last three kilometres of the half-marathon. The point when you really question whether you can make it.

Every step hurts. You entertain the idea of giving up. Claim you’ve got a cramp. A torn muscle. Perhaps you do stop. But then you remind yourself, it is still possible to finish. Even if you have to walk, limp or crawl across the line. Even if your first draft is a complete shambles.

Why are endings of first drafts so painful? By the time I get to the end I am only just beginning to have a clear sense of what I’m trying to say, what my characters want and the sort of journey they’re on. But it is also the terrifying moment when I realize that I have barely explored these essential parts of my story, in this, the disarray of my first draft.

I feel like I’ve been ‘ending’ my current book for months, years even. My Best Friend is on Fire (a working title) is a follow-up to my children’s book My Best Friend is Extinct, and the book takes place in the backcountry at a summer mountain bike camp.

In some ways, scribbling away at the sequel has been easier. I know the characters well. Henry’s got a gleeful joy about the world. He has a quirky, funny point of view. His buddy Coco is adventurous and helps Henry fix his clunker of a mountain bike. She also teaches him how to ride over dreaded tree roots. The other part that’s been really fun is that I get to develop the minor characters more in this second book. There’s more room to play.

Still, the ending is excruciating. I think the reason that writing it has been so hard, is that by discovering the story as I go along has meant that as I reach the finish line I now know that the beginning—and the middle—don’t match the end. My main character’s arc is more of a flat line. The minor characters are unruly. And the plot zig zags out of alignment.

I’ll confess that during the writing journey I’m often tempted to flip sprint back to the beginning and start rewriting that first part all over again.

This would be a mistake. One I’ve made before. I’ve been stuck in that never ending rewriting-the-beginning loop. Eight drafts later you have a terrific beginning. And no book. Furthermore, if I did finish the book, the ending still wouldn’t fit. Because the ending will have evolved beyond the beginning.

The only answer is to keep going. Push through the pain, the doubt. Know that first drafts are a sloppy stumble across the line. Have faith the next version will be better, more fit. That it’ll be closer to the muscular, powerful story you dreamed of when you set off.

What do you think of endings? Leave a note in the comments below or connect with me using another option here.

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