I’m working on the last chapter or two of my current WIP (I sometimes wait until the book is done to break it up into chapters). The ending is, of course, the culmination of everything that has gone before; it’s the climax, the resolution, the payoff. And if I’ve done my job well enough, it’s delicious.
This one feels delicious. What I’ve noticed is that I am torn between wanting to hurry up and finish the blinkin’ thing so I know how it’s all going to hang together, and taking my time, working it out slowly so every word is perfectly placed. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had this dilemma before.
Usually, if the inspiration is there, the urge to write is there, the opportunity is there, I just write. Write until I can’t anymore due to one of a thousand reasons. This one is different and I have no idea why.
I love getting to the end of the book. I love it when I can tie up all (or most) of the loose ends, when that thing that I wrote 150 pages ago suddenly pops up again and makes perfect sense, when the protagonist can go one of several different ways and it’s a toss-up until s/he’s done some major soul-searching; I love all that. It’s like holding the last ten pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in my hand, knowing just where they go — I only have to put them in place. There’s a sublime sense of satisfaction when I get to this point.
So what’s the problem?
When I’m writing a scene that’s just one more step toward the end, I want to hurry and just get … it … done. Knowing the end is so close, within reach, makes me antsy to finish it. Come on, come on, just keep writing, a few more pages, just a few more.
But I don’t want to rush it. I don’t want to write a quick skeleton of the end, because I find it difficult to go back and smoothly put meat on it later. I want to take my time and let it develop slowly, fully. I’ve found that after every important scene I am backing away, letting it cool, letting it gel in my mind, in my heart. And the wonderful thing is that leaving that space between writing sessions has left room for ideas and feelings to float up into consciousness. It’s created a space for synchronicity, for connections I never noticed before, for ideas to come full circle and reinforce the theme of the story. It’s almost as if, by opening up those spaces, a vacuum is created, and the ideas must flood in. It’s certainly nothing I’ve planned. Those connections and reiterations come up full blown when I least expect them. One morning, an idea occurred to me during breakfast, an idea that sparked dialog so full of emotion it had me crying in my scrambled eggs.
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
Breaking away from it also lets me come back to it with fresh eyes, reader’s eyes. When I come back and catch myself up by reading the last few pages, I read it as it’s all brand new, as I don’t know where it’s going. I also check to see if it affects me the same way as when I wrote it. Ah, there’s the rub. One day I found myself writing, crying, writing, crying. It blows my mind that characters of my own creation can elicit so much emotion from me as I’m setting the words down. People that I have made up are breaking my heart. Oh, and by the way, they’re also changing the entire tone of the whole book. The book is no longer about what I thought it was about. It started out sad, tragic even, and now it’s full of hope. How the heck does that happen?
So anyway, back to reading as a reader. Does it affect me the same way? Not always. And I know why that is. As the author, I have the entire story and all the backstory of the characters in my head. I know these people. They are trusted friends, loved relatives. The first-time reader does not have the accumulated sense of these people that I do. If I’m lucky, they will, by the time they finish the book.
But the biggest reason to take my time and go slowly is that I want to savor it. I think we all, at one time or another, have read a book that just holds us in thrall, and we want badly to finish it but we want just as badly for it to never end. I’ve been lucky to have some readers find my books like that, and one went so far as to say she metered out the time each day she would allow herself to read because she didn’t want it to end. That’s how I’m feeling about my writing right now. The characters are all dear friends, and I don’t want to get to that point when I no longer interact with them every day, no longer wonder what they’ll say or what they’ll do. Oh, sure, I know I can go back and “visit” anytime, but it’s never quite the same.
Would this Last-Chapter-Two-Step work for every author? Probably not. I’ve certainly never done this before. But it’s working for this book, at this time and place. Although it’s hard to tear myself away from it, especially when the ideas are tumbling out, I’m finding that the process of breaking away and coming back is making me careful, making me mindful. I’m delving deep for the exact word I want, I’m placing it very carefully within the sentence and the paragraph. Each word has a nuance, and if I put the wrong one in, it’ll tip the story ever-so-slightly away from what it should be. It’s much more of a Zen approach than I’ve ever used before.
So the real question is: is it working?