The Never Ending Story

Writers would walk around gratified if we could ride a puppy into the sunset and have our stories end satisfactorily…

Yeah, right.

The last time you finished a story, how did you feel about it? Did you put it away for a day, or a few days, then go back and re-read it and start tweaking it? When did you stop tweaking it?

Did you ever stop tweaking it, or did you work yourself into an exhausted heap?

I thought so.

Every time I look at stories I haven’t placed yet I feel an itch. If you’re a writer, and chances are pretty good if you’re reading my blog that you are a writer, you know this itch well. The itch spreads and becomes a rash. You can’t stop scratching.

Let me take out this sentence here. Ahh, that feels better. Oh, wait a minute, if I take out that, I need to adjust this part. Mmm, yes, feels good. Oops, now I have to remove the first three paragraphs. Oh no, it doesn’t make sense anymore.

Wait… what just happened?

Stories are like knitted sweaters. If you unravel a piece and carefully reconstruct the part you ripped out, you might complete it. But sometimes you rip out so much all you’ve got left is a mass of tangled yarn.


Anecdote alert:

I once sent a story I thought was done to an editor I respected (and still respect.) The editor gave me detailed edits… with tracking on. (Have I ever mentioned how generous editors can be and how much I adore so many of them?)

I started going through the edits and clipping, trimming, and adding. I got to the last paragraph and the editor wrote “This would be a lot better as the first paragraph…” and POOF, the story disintegrated in my hands.

I still haven’t gone back to that story, it’s a mess. Completely shredded.

Yet another story was circulating and I got some good feedback about the ending. I agreed with the editorial team’s comments. I went in and ruthlessly cut the entire second half of the story, and felt a lot better about the beginning. Eventually, I plan on going back to that story and writing a new ending. For now the material is “resting” (euphemism for: I’m avoiding it right now.)


Whenever I finish a story to a semblance of doneness, I send it out to be read. I get the rejection slips, the feedback, the “almost but not quites” and I go and hack away at it again. What else can I do?

But in all the time I’ve been writing, I never recall a time when I finished a story and thought, this story is perfect. I’ll never have to work on it again.

The Never Ending Story is what writer’s do…we write and stop, but the crafting of a story never really ends. We decide it’s time to move on to something else, but only after applying plenty of ointment, so we can ignore the itchy feeling we get when we re-read the work later.


7 Responses

  1. I actually have gotten to the point where I’ve stopped tweaking and thought, “this is perfect I’ll never have to go back again.” I had this one short memoir piece (What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father, I mentioned it on my blog) I wrote that just came out nearly whole. It barely needed any edits. I loved it and I thought it was strong and said everything I wanted to say exactly the way I wanted to say it. It won a couple awards, but didn’t get published for a while, so I kept submitting it around places; even with two reputable awards, it got maybe five rejections before an acceptance. Every time it came back with a rejection, I reread it and loved every single sentence just where they were. I know it’s an unusual experience, but I’ve had it happen that one time.

    • That’s excellent Hannah! It’s true, sometimes work flows out and it just gels together. I think when you are closest to the subject it’s more likely to happen. It makes sense to me you were writing about something deeply personal.

      Thanks so much for your excellent comment. 🙂

  2. I am a hardcore re-writer, and it’s been a new experience for me to write with the editors at the publishing house. There were two initial sweeps – one was a 3200 word cut, the second an 800 word cut. Then there were the final line edits with two other editors. Now it’s in the hands of the publisher and is going out as it stands. I was so overwhelmed by the process, that I honestly have not been able to re-read the final version just to read – without the editing hat on. At this point – I have to trust – because anything I ever write is the Never Ending Story!
    Great analogy Carol!

    • Holy smoke Wren, it seems like you just started writing for your contract. I’m so proud of you sister, look at everything you accomplished in what MUST have felt like NO time whatsoever.

      I can’t wait to read more of your observations on your blog about your experiences (please do write about them!)

      Much love and continued success to you…!

  3. I know that it happens most of the time, especially if we strongly attached to the story we created but sometimes we have to force ourselves and give an end…..

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