What started as a humorous response to a shared link on Facebook turned into something much bigger. I have felt compelled to write for a long time. Not just since Lent began last February when I made a commitment to post to my blog every day until Easter. The compulsion is much older than that. I have wanted to write and have been writing, albeit off and on, since I was a kid.
I took it on in earnest in middle school. I wrote for class assignments and I wrote to amuse myself and my friends. There is something about the whole process that is life-giving. Wow, that sounded kind of pompous, but I’m serious. At the very least it is energy giving. That’s not to say it is always enjoyable. In fact, the actual writing itself is hardly ever enjoyable for me. It’s a struggle and it’s painful. It truly is labor and it’s exhausting, but when I get there and sit back and read something I’ve written it is satisfying. The having written is satisfying. What I have written is hardly ever satisfying. Rarely am I satisfied with what I’ve written, and even more rarely do I think it is any good. But that’s not the point. The point is the doing of it.
In my lifetime I have had so many great ideas for characters, for situations, for mysteries, for plot lines, and yet I have a terrible time getting very far in my projects. Oh, I can produce a sermon. I’m not devaluing that writing. Sermons are important and I do labor over them. It’s my fiction that doesn’t seem to go very far, even when it is so autobiographical it’s practically non-fiction.
Yesterday a friend posted a link on Facebook about somebody’s rules for storytelling. I often read these articles on writing hoping the key to unlocking the depth of my ability will be there. More often than not it just the same old thing: helpful hints that I already know or that don’t work for me. But this article actually have several suggestions that made real sense to me.
And then there was rule #7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
Suddenly I realized that I hardly ever know what my ending is going to be when I sit down to write. Ah, I thought. That’s what I need. I need to know where I am headed. If I wind up going somewhere else, that’s okay, but I need to know where I am headed when I begin.
So I responded to my friend’s shared link saying the article made me realize I needed an ending. She wrote back “And she lived happily ever after.” When I read that it was like I had been slapped in the face. Not because she meant to be hurtful; of course not. Not because it was a cliché when I was actually being serious. It stopped me cold because suddenly I realized that I didn’t know what a happy ending looked like or felt like. “And she lived happily ever after” only works for fairy tales, and even then it doesn’t always work.
What does a real happy ending look like? What does it feel like? What is a happy ending in real life? I’m not saying that nothing good has ever happened to me. All kinds of good things have happened to me. Things beyond good – amazing things, miraculous even – have happened in my life. But when I try to imagine a happy ending, it is nearly impossible for me.
How in the world can we set any kind of goals for ourselves if we cannot imagine them turning out well? How can we ever hope to accomplish something? I do realize that part of what is getting in the way of my seeing a happy ending at this point in time is that I am struggling up and back from a moderately severe bout of depression. Not too bad. I was nowhere near the SVD (see blog post about Molasses in Your Heart), but it got bad enough that for a day or so I could barely move out of my chair and I had one whole day when I only left my bedroom twice. I wasn’t lying about in the dark crying or staring into space. I was reading and writing. I just did not have the energy to speak to another human being, not even at the most superficial level.
I’m not 100% back yet, but I am so much improved that the improvement almost feels good. I’m grateful that these bouts are not nearly as frequent or as severe as they used to be. Okay enough about that. I’m much better today and will be even better tomorrow.
But where is my happy ending? Not happily ever after, just a good outcome. That is what I am going to work on next. Learning to come up with endings – all kinds, but preferably happy ones.
So as an exercise in this, feel free to send me a scenario and I will write an ending of some sort. Let’s start with short and simple ones and then will see if this is really helpful. Send me your unfinished situation as a comment on this blog or a tweet or a response to this link on Facebook and I will write an ending.