When I was younger, the concept of “starting over” frightened me. The phrase itself smacked of wasted time and effort, of defeat, of failure. If something — anything — needed to be started over, then that meant that mistakes were made. Better to just get it right the first time so you wouldn’t have to start over. Better to just not fail in the first place.
Well. Fantasy writer though I am, I have at least learned a bit about realism since then.
This misguided view applied to a variety of situations, but of course it also applied to writing. Even as late as high school, while I accepted revision as a necessity, I resisted rewriting. How could I just dismantle everything I had already done? Who knew how long that would take? It’s a cliche that teenagers believe themselves immortal, but this was definitely not true for me. I knew my life was short and my youth was shorter, and I needed to get shit done before it was over. I didn’t have time to start over.
I got over most of this in college and all of it in grad school. I am now queen of the blank page rewrite, and I enjoy every minute of it. (Well, most minutes of it. While I distrust writers who only talk about the ~struggle of the ~craft and never seem to actually enjoy themselves, I also distrust anyone who would claim to not want to throw their laptop at the wall sometimes.) Now I barely even think about it anymore. However, I have been thinking about endings lately, and how to my mind, the best endings are about starting over.
Incidentally, I’ve been thinking about endings because of the most recent thing I’ve started over, the outlines of the next two books of story. They were maybe one draft removed from the current version of the first book, which apparently was enough for me to look at them, go NOPE, and get down to business. I’m definitely someone who figures things out by actually writing it (and then rewriting it), so I have no illusions about my changes sticking forever, but I have been slowly cobbling together more useful frameworks to take me through to the end of the trilogy.
THE END OF THE TRILOGY. What scary words. Meanwhile, werewolf story has been percolating in the back of my mind through all of this, and its ending is also a somewhat frightening concept, because I definitely haven’t managed to get it right yet. (There are a lot of things about werewolf story I haven’t managed to get right yet, but that is a post for another day. See above: throwing laptop against the wall.) (I still love you, werewolf story.) But whatever I do (and redo and redo) for these two works and many others in the future, I feel strongly that the key to the endings will be starting over.
My characters are teenagers. The ending can’t be final. What I must do is bring them to the end of the first great effort and up to the beginning of the next one. There will be a lot that has yet to be resolved. This doesn’t mean that I want to leave anyone wondering what the hell just happened. (No, that’ll be for Judas story. YEAH, MOM, I’M STILL GONNA WRITE THAT SOMEDAY.) (Don’t get preemptively mad at me about the ambiguous ending of Judas story please.) What will be up in the air is what happens next. What will happen when they all start over.
Because they will have wasted time and effort, made mistakes, and faced defeat and failure. But they will have also gotten some things right. Those will be the things they will take into their futures, just as I have with their stories, just as I do with my own life. It’s not about thinking you’ll figure it all out this time. It’s about knowing that this time you won’t get it all quite so wrong. That’s where I think books should end: with the characters in a position to do better.