Without End

I have words boiling up inside of me. Words that want out. The first pages, chapters, paragraphs of stories clutter my hard drive. There are characters who spend days, a month, even years pushing out of my fingers. Each time I start I think, this is it. This is the time I will get to the end.

But in more than 15 years of writing, I’ve only ever ended a story one single time. I have two novels partly written. I have dozens upon dozens of first, second, even third chapters. I have the shells of short stories. But I have only one, tiny completed piece. I’ve struggled with this for years and years, and I cannot say why I am so stuck.

A recent evening.

I love to write. I love to put words together. I love to try to conjure meaning out of associations and ideas. I even think that I am sometimes good at it. But I thirst to create a tale. I thirst for characters to walk out of my mind, and onto the page, and then on down the road until they reach a place worth stopping.

The truth is, I’ve never known the ending to anything I’ve started. I can always imagine the beginning. It often starts with characters, who I feel like they are my own flesh. There is always a place that I can see and smell, a place I inhabit behind my closed eyes. I can live in those people, those landscapes, like they are my own. I can hold them in my arms, feel the complexities of their emotions, of the changes in the weather. I know their history and how they arrived where they are. It’s so rich, so real, that I set aside my doubt and charge forward. But I inevitably lose it. I fill with despair. I cannot bring them down the road to the end of a journey. I simply cannot.

I have tried outlining. I’ve tried sketching, bubble diagramming, using index cards. Most frequently I have just written, hoping to see where the story goes. But nothing in my imagination can make the end come.

Sometimes I’ve asked myself whether I’d be better with non-fiction. Whether that would fulfill me, let me practice the craft. Maybe if I can just write what is, rather than imagine what could be, I could arrive there. But the only non-fiction that tempts me for my own writing is memoir. And I don’t feel that the lessons of my own life have any finality to them, or that they warrant sharing. There is nothing profound in how I’ve lived, and no profound insight worth pointing to. I feel barely fledged, eyes still shut, bumbling around, narrowly avoiding harm at all times.

Sometimes I wonder if this is because I failed, for so long, to create conclusions in my own damaged journey. Perhaps it’s because I woke up each day for many years and followed a path that I knew to be untrue. Perhaps I felt powerless to make changes because of this very difficulty I have in imagining endings. to end it because I have this critical lack of imagination, of drive to get to a conclusion. And in fact, when the end to that particular situation came, it wasn’t because of action, or a path I chose. One day I just decided not to do what would be needed to make it continue on, and it ended.

To write honestly would mean to write about what I really feel, what I really experience. It would also involve trust. Trust that I could arrive at an end, and trust in the uncertain space between here and there.

I want to pick up a story—any story—and see it to its end point. If it’s 8 pages, if it’s 75 or 400, I want to know that I can start it, and finish it, too. But meantime, here I am. Stuck. But practicing. Still practicing.