Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Coming to a Conclusion

By Rose B. Thorny (Guest Blogger)


As writers, we all know that there comes a time when we have to end it all.

Whether we’re plodding, strolling, prancing, or hurtling towards the inevitable, we know it is precisely that… the unavoidable conclusion that we must reach if we’re going to have a marketable product, even if we don’t actually sell it for money. By marketable product, I mean a story that satisfies someone other than the writer. The way I see it, the point of writing a story is to tell a story you have inside you, but the point of finishing it is to share it with others.

That last part is the gamble, though, isn’t it?

Not long ago, I was involved in a discussion that arose from a writer saying, essentially, that she was “stuck” part way through a major project. Part of the discussion touched on where, in stories of any length, one is likely to get stuck, and I gleaned that it is not unusual for authors to stall when their stories are reaching the conclusion. If it had occurred to me at the time, I would have taken a little informal poll just to get a ballpark percentage, rough data on the number of writers who stall near the end of their projects.

Of the stories I’ve started and not finished, the majority of them are close enough to the end – beyond the major turning point – that I realize that point is where I have stalled. It isn’t that I don’t know how the story is going to end, because I have a very clear vision of the where and how of the conclusion. Of the stories I’ve written and finished, though, I think about how much easier it seemed to be to finish them before I’d had any successes.

The more stories I wrote and finished, the harder it became to finish them. While I was writing the final act of my later stories, I’d write a sentence or two and then I’d feel paralyzed. I’d have to get up and walk around, look out the window at the bird feeders, or get a coffee, then I’d sit down and write another sentence, then maybe do a chore – put on a load laundry, or walk out to get the mail (and that’s a fifteen-minute break, because out to the mailbox is a quarter-mile hike) then sit down and a few more words. It got really bad when I’d watch myself writing two or three words and then being so antsy I’d have to get up and move around for ten or fifteen minutes (taking deep breaths and feeling totally wired), before I could sit down and write another few words. I reached a point where it really just wasn’t fun. It was all anxiety about writing the perfect story.

I’ve thought about this a lot, just to try and analyze what’s going on in my brain when this unfortunate impasse occurs.

I’m not going to get into the mechanics of writing and how, if such a thing happens, you should just sit and write, write, write, even if what you are writing is crap. I don’t believing in writing crap on purpose, the same way I don’t believe in making a crappy dinner on purpose, even if I’m cooking just for myself. If it’s crap, it isn’t the story I’m writing and all I’d have, if I did that, is a good story with a crappy ending, which, I think, is why I’m subconsciously afraid to continue on to the conclusion in the first place – the fear of writing a crappy ending. To me, a crappy ending means there wasn’t much point in writing the story at all.

I’m also not going to be shy about saying that when I’m writing what I consider to be a good story, I sincerely believe it is a good story. My gut tells me it’s a good story. Of course, I don’t know if that’s misplaced confidence, or an example of perfectly appalling hubris, or pathetic self-delusion, or, by some weird twist of fate, true. I do know that when I read and re-read (and re-read) the story, up to the point where I’ve stopped, I find it entertaining. I think, “This is a story I would read right to the end, if someone else wrote it.”

And that’s when I wish someone else had written it… and finished it!! I think that if someone else had written it, they would have known, in advance, what the very best slam-bang ending would be, the one that would have the readers saying, “Wow…just wow.” I know what the ending is going to be, but I think what happens is that very special fear creeps in. It is the fear that the conclusion will not live up to the rest of the story, that it will be a disappointment, not to me (because I can self-delude with the best of the self-delusional), but to the reader.

With the stories I’ve written and finished, I thought the endings were good, but before I heard that from anyone else, first I would think it’s good and then I’d start thinking, “No, it sucks. Everyone is going to hate this. Why did you even put it out there?” And then I’d get the feedback and it confirmed that my initial gut reaction was on track – the story, including the end, was good.

And that is the bigger picture: Writing a good story and finishing it and having it acknowledged as worthy by one’s peers and other readers. That’s great, when it happens, but then the next story is all conclusion, by which I mean that before I’ve even gotten a few hundred words into it, I’m already thinking, “This is going to be a disappointment. I won’t be able to do it again. Even if the story line is good, the ending is going to be a letdown.” I can’t help but think that any success is a fluke and the odds of flukes continuing are not good.

Conclusions mean, to me, that I just have to keep getting better and better and better, but, in my experience, at some point, there is no better, there is only a “this is as good as it gets” plateau and after that, it’s just like the boiling point of water. The only thing that happens when water reaches the boiling point is that it starts evaporating. But there’s also no sitting on your laurels, because, well, that’s what everyone says… don’t sit on your laurels. The implication is that sitting on your laurels is the equivalent of failing. So what’s the alternative? Keep going, keep boiling that water in the pot. Keep proving to everyone that you’re as good as, or better than, your previous success. Keep walking along that edge. Keep that gut of yours clenched and those hands shaking and your heart pounding with anxiety wondering when the fall is going to come. Rest on your laurels and you’re a has-been failure, who loses all respect, or keep going knowing that, eventually, you’re going to fail anyway.

This isn’t just the ravings of an insecure, anxious wimp.

Very few published authors, whose work I enjoyed initially, maintained a level of quality and anticipation that has kept me coming back for more. Of course, there were/are some, a few, who have maintained the momentum, but so many others started out writing stories that had me gripped to the end and then something happened. Somewhere along the line, while their subsequent stories held the promise of, “Yesssss, that was a fabulous read,” the conclusions became predictable, and then, even the stories became repetitive and predictable, and the endings a yawn I saw coming.

I don’t want that to happen to me, but if it happens to so many oft-published professionals, with so many years of writing under their belts and so much more experience, how can I possibly expect it not to happen to me? Why would I be an exception to that? What would make me think I’m so special that I believe I would be? And that creates the specter of being a disappointment, the image of a has-been that nobody cares about or even remembers. “Yeah, what’s-her-name was good to start, but then, pfffft… she lost it. What was her name, anyway? Well, doesn’t matter.”

The conclusions become harder and harder, because every ending means a next beginning and the doubt is always present that there will either be a plethora of three-hundred-word beginnings, or no next beginning whatever, because all of it, and not just the slam-bang endings, will have dried up.

Okay, so if you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, “This is the most downer blog piece I’ve ever read on ERWA,” and, perhaps, you’re right, but bear with me. Just keep reading a bit further… I’m almost done.

I started a story, way back in September of 2012. Just as I reached the turning point of the story, the part that heralded the conclusion, I stopped. Over the subsequent months of 2013, I went back to it regularly and re-read it, edited it (and by edited, I mean embellishing or changing phraseology, or finding a better word, or rewriting sentences – nothing major, just touch-ups), but never added to it following the last sentence of the story as it stood when I’d stopped. I really enjoyed re-reading the whole story over and over. I couldn’t see much at all wrong with it, and still don’t.

While it is unfinished, though, it holds all kinds of promise. I think the fear is that once I finish it, it won’t live up to the promise and, if I put it out there and it’s a flop, I will have neither the energy nor the inclination to do it all over again. The second fear is that if I put it out there and it is not flop, what do I do next? The expectation will be that the next one has to be even better, and if this one took over a year to write, and it’s good, how long will it take to write an even better one? I mean we’re not talking novel, here. I’m talking about a story that is, at this point, just under 14K, and it’s taken me fifteen months to get that far.

But here’s the upshot. I did get over the first hurdle of the conclusion. Over the past winter break, when I had thirteen days mostly to myself (if you don’t count getting up every two minutes to tell the new puppy, “Get down,” “No, you can’t have that,” “Drop that,” “Here, play with your toy instead,” and ask “Do you need to go out and pee?”), I actually sat down and wrote the pivotal scene that presages the final act of the story.

If I can do that, then I can finish the story. And if a neurotic, anxiety-ridden, over-analyzing perfectionist with crazy-ass self-esteem and insecurity issues can finish a story, anyone can.

The End.

About Rose


Rose B. Thorny (the “T” is often silent) has been a denizen of ERWA since 2005. She has been published in the anthology, “Cream, The Best of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association,” and boasts stories in Volumes 7 and 10 of Maxim Jakubowski’s “Mammoth Book Of Best New Erotica,” plus stories and poetry in ERWA’s Treasure Chest. By day, Rose is a not-exactly-mild-mannered administrative assistant. The rest of the time, she is all over map trying to focus on writing, cooking, art, photography, wildlife and running the homestead with her husband, all the while, looking after three cats and now a new puppy. Rose is also an ERWA Storytime editor; she loves the thrill of reading work by the promising new writers who make ERWA the coolest hotspot in literary erotica.

11 comments:

  1. Hi, Rose,

    I think you're asking too much of yourself. No one can hit a home run every time they come up to bat. When I look at all the stories I've published (I've stopped counting, but it's probably near one hundred), I know that some are better than others. I do think one's craft improves in a continuing upward arc, but inspiration and imagination fluctuate, at least for me.

    Of course you can sit on your laurels if you want. They are, after all, yours. That's not a failure. But you are depriving your readers of more enjoyment if you make that choice.

    I'm hoping that by now you've managed to bring your story from 2012 to its conclusion - and that you'll share it with those of us who admire your work!

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  2. Hi, Lisabet, and thanks. I know I ask too much of myself... it's kind of a habit, which I developed over the first decades of my life, that I've never been able to break. It's an especially noticeable habit with things I *choose* to do. Like if I've made that decision, then I must stick with it to the bitter end and never, ever stop trying to be perfect at it. I see it as thinking, imagining, that is what is *expected* of me and anything less will relegate me to some of kine of bottom-of-the-list limbo and I'll have to start pushing that boulder back up the hill all over again. It's really exhausting.

    As for sitting on laurels (and that reminds me of one of my stories that I just love and did post... "Laurel's Ass"), for me, the implication of that is although I've earned the right to rest on them, the fact that it's like staying on a plateau and being comfortable there, I think that others think it's what quitters do. I always think that others think you (and by you I mean I) have to keep going, even if it kills you (and by you I mean me). I don't hold others to that level of devotion, but I always think others hold me to that level of devotion.

    On the upside, I *have* almost finished that story and hope to get it posted shortly (is "shortly" vague enough to encompass next week or so?).



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  3. i'm inclined to agree with you, Rose. i have read far too much mediocre fiction where it was clear the writer just pushed herself to continue because the important thing was publishing. if you have the luxury to really work at your craft, i see no harm in trusting your gut. what i do when i run into a road block is to let things sit for awhile, return to the story after a week or so and all being well, write myself out of the block. usually the incubation period has inspired me to try a different tack. i like seeing these blog posts from fellow ERWA members. thanks to those who came up with the initiative!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Amanda.

      You're right... an "incubation period" is often the solution. It's great if it's only a week or so. A lot more problematic when it's as long as the gestation period of an elephant. But even baby elephants are born, so there's always hope.

      And, yes, what a great opportunity this is for ERWA guest bloggers. Thank you, Lisabet for making this possible.

      Rose ;-)

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  4. Hi Rose:
    Thanks for this very honest confession.
    I am new to this writing thing. My CV consists of two anthology placements. The first one earned me enough to live rent free for nearly six months on a burning dung heap in Bangladesh. I understand your point about misplaced confidence. It's a good thing. I knew that dog would hunt before I was done with the first draft-it was so brash and so different from anything I was reading. My other claim to fame is being between the covers with the likes of Lisbet in the Storm anthology where we have anointed North Platte, Nebraska as the erotic capitol of the United States. I have some other stuff out there that I hope will one day allow me to move out of this refrigerator box and maybe into an abandoned trailer home in Love Canal. Who can say?
    I got some great advice from the mentor who whispered into my ear that I could be a fiction writer, maybe even a good one. I call them Leicht's Laws: 1) writing is for you; 2) publishing is for others: 3) market success is a convergence of highly improbable events.

    Whenever I get out of order between 1 &2, I get stuck, often badly. I don't know anything about #3 yet, but it can only make things worse. I say write the story you want with the ending you want. If you can imagine it, hundreds or thousands are pining for that story.

    Your crits are very valuable to us fledgling writers but you might want to consider doing less of it, it makes you too conscious of story flaws and mechanical errors (like my spelling and punctuation, for instance) I wouldn't take a break from writing, I'd take a break from thinking about writing.

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    1. Well, yeah. A new Rose story is getting to be like ... an event or something. Really, I think I'm going to have the neighbors over for wine and cheese and then I'll read it out loud. to them. Yup, looking forward to it.

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    2. Hi, Spencer, and thanks for commenting.

      I love that "rent free on a dung heap." Funny stuff.

      Two anthology placements is mighty fine, as far as I'm concerned, and, yes, it's always an honour to be between the covers with such esteemed writers as Lisabet and other outstanding writers on the ERWA list. I still remember thinking, "I can't believe I'm in the same anthology as all these other writers," "all these other writers" meaning the likes of Mike Kimera, Lisabet Sarai, Bob Buckley, and so many ERWA others whose work I admired from the first time I found the site.

      Good advice about not taking a break from writing, but taking a break from thinking about writing. Thanks.

      Rose ;-)

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    3. But, no pressure, eh, Bob?

      Well, at least if you serve wine and cheese, it won't be a totally wasted evening.

      Thanks for commenting on this post.

      Rose ;-)

      PS: I'd rather have you reading my stories out loud, than have to read them aloud myself.

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  5. Hey Rose-
    I think this is the first time I’ve commented on an ERWA blog. Shame on me!

    But I do relate to most of what you’ve said. Seems my energy and imagination has dried up since I started writing erotica five or six years ago. Conclusions are also a fear. Can’t tell you how many half and three quarter stories are in my files. Some I go back to, some are definitely washouts.

    Some days the words come easy, other times not so much. Sometimes it works in the morning when I have the most time sometimes it comes in the afternoon. Some days (read weeks) not at all. What’s with that?

    And yes, I don’t know how people can bang out fabulous stories in a short time. (They’re the naturals; the rest of us have to work at it) It seems any time I rush, it comes out shit, or I get stranded without inspiration. Sometimes I’ll spend weeks on a flasher before it’s ready. I call myself a hobbyist because I don’t necessarily write for pubbing. If I have a story fit for a call, I’ll submit it, but writing to prompt is not my strong suit.

    But I’m a gonna try and finish something by next Friday that I started last week for the Trading Places theme on Storytime. A snippet will be posted at OGG next Wednesday.

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    1. Hi, DX, and thanks for commenting.

      I know what you mean about rushing a story, especially the ending. A couple of times I've been lucky bashing out short short stories (as opposed to long short stories) because the inspiration was there and I struck while the iron was hot, but on a couple of other occasions, although I took my time at the beginning of the story, I rushed the end, to make the Saturday night midnight deadline (that was when Storytime weekends were Thursday to Saturday and I really had only Saturdays and Sundays to write) and I was sorry I did. I just wanted to finish the story and post it... *NOW* (instant gratification, I guess). But the price is high...a rushed ending always ends up looking/reading rushed, and readers aren't going to be happy with a rushed ending, because rushed = letdown.

      I will admit that when I was producing a lot more flashers, I *was* bashing them out usually within an hour or two of posting them, though some of them were in the making for a few days or a week, but my flasher production really dropped off a couple of years ago, along with all other worked of fiction that I was actually completing. Everything ended up half-baked, which means a fiction famine, because half-baked doesn't cut it.

      I always look forward to your work though. It may take you awhile to finish stories/flashers, but it's always worth the wait.

      Rose ;-)

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  6. Sometimes a complete flasher will come to me fully fleshed out, but they're rare. Thanks for your encouraging words. I'm still working n the trading places story, but pretty confident it'll be ready by the end of the month. If not, so what; I'll post it later. :>)

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