Notes on Writing

When do you stop adding onto the end?

I had the pleasure of working with several of my students this week on essay development. I noticed that all of them had written wonderful pieces rich in idea and also eloquence. The work conveyed story as well as reflection.

The authors shared three different kinds of concern. All of them pertained to the endings of their essays.

One was written past its stopping point. The student had written past the poignant moment. Once we relocated the ending, the student could see the potential for deeper revision within the contacted piece.

One was written as three very long chapters. The author didn’t know what came next. We discovered that by breaking the draft into much shorter chapters and developing each one more heartily the three chapters were actually about ten and would comprise Part One of a book the student could now envision based on what was already there.

One held an entire book within its scope, a book it will grow into not by adding more but by going deeper into each paragraph.

As I relax this Saturday and reflect on my students’ successful work, I think of how we consider endings not only of our writing but of other aspects of life. “Our beginnings hardly know our ends,” writes T.S. Eliot writes. Sometimes our ends don’t either.

Looking at an ending is an opportunity to reflect and discover. What did you really want to say? Have you already said it then doubted it was enough? Have you skimmed over parts with a paragraph when pages were needed and deserved?

As we learn with life, the ending is rarely what we think it is.


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