Last week I led a teen writing workshop in which participants--and the grownups who paid their registration--were promised that each writer would finish the workshop with a completed short story. The experience of looking over their shoulders all week (literally and virtually, using the document-sharing feature of Google docs) has me thinking a lot about endings--and about the helpful piece that Jacqueline Jules wrote about endings this spring.
One writer in my group stared at her screen for long periods of time between sentences, without apparent frustration but also without adding much to her story some days. Another writer began typing the minute she walked in the room, never stuck for ideas--but with each new character, nuance, and plot twist, I worried whether she would finish in time for the celebratory reading at the end of the workshop.
Teachers of reluctant writers face one set of challenges in helping their students complete a piece. But teachers of dedicated, lifelong, even gifted writers face a different set of challenges. These writers have so many ideas for their characters, and such high ideals for what they want to accomplish, that their story grows richer and more elaborate, in their mind or on the screen, without finding its way to an end.
To help the group along, I found myself gaining inspiration not from famous writers or notable teachers, but rather from my friend Holly who recently helped me plan and implement a kitchen renovation. We began by brainstorming from the big wide universe of possibilities, but to narrow down our ideas we had to look at what we could realistically accomplish in this particular space, on this particular budget, with this particular two-year-old living in the house. Limitations forced us to make choices, and choices helped us to break past indecision toward a soon-to-be realized goal.
So, did those two students finish their stories? I vote "yes," though both say they want to edit and polish more before their work appears in the workshop's online publication. As I think of the blinds and seat cushions yet to arrive in the kitchen--but more importantly, as I think of my novels, especially the ones already published--I can identify with the urge to tinker just a little more, and a little more, off into the sunset. But as another Holly, science fiction writer Holly Lisle , describes in her One-Pass Manuscript Revision, "Your career lies in writing a book, and writing another book, and writing a book after that. " For our students and for us, it's time to get finished so we can really get started.