THE END – Knowing When to Stop

By Cynthia Ray

Sometimes knowing when a story or piece of art is finished and “just right” is not easy nor obvious.  A writer can fall into a rabbit hole like Alice, writing in circles, while the story balloons into a monster, or growing smaller and smaller, tight and stilted, until it can be difficult to find the way out again.

There is danger in the sticky plotting stage, mulling over characters, deciding whether to add another subplot, or theme, and changing the ending (again!).  Once the writing commences in earnest, some writers craft each sentence as a masterpiece, considering each word, trying all the thesaurus possibilities, to find the perfect and exact expression of an idea, before getting to the end of the paragraph, let alone the chapter or the book.

Yet others make it all the way through the first draft but end up in an editing labyrinth–redoing chapters, endless line edits, questioning everything about the work until all perspective is lost and perhaps the work is given up as lost.

The self-doubt, the inner demons that whisper ‘failure’ to us and the misguided desire to deliver only perfection keeps many wonderful stories from the world.  Don’t let it be one of yours!  Stephen King tells the story of working on a novel, but in despair, he tossed his manuscript into the trash can. His lovely wife found the discarded manuscript, read it, and made him reconsider. “Carrie” is one of his best works.

When is it finished?  Truman Capote expressed it perfectly:

“Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can’t generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has defined the natural shape of his story is just this: After reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.”

Recently, I finally finished a painting I worked on for over two years.  My end product is more emotional than any earlier version and more meaningful to me.  However, I could have ended on another version, and it might have been okay, but it would not have been the ORANGE.  I nearly tossed it into the trash on various occasions, and those whispering demons of failure nibbled at the edges of my canvas.   Here is part of the progression of this art.  Wishing you courage, perseverance and inspiration in your work.


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