Compost and how to end a story

I have been doing some school workshops lately, through the StoryBoard program and Byron Writers Festival. I love this work, more than I can say. To be surrounded by kids burning to create… And then there are kids who don’t burn to create. Who seem hesitant, and hold back. And I’ll chat with them, and their stories are amazing, and we’ll talk about ways to get that story down… I think that’s almost my favourite bit of the experience.

One of the questions I have been asked during these workshops, is ‘How do you finish something?’

This is a good question. And I am not sure I know how to answer it exactly, as I have so many unfinished manuscripts on my computer.

My writing process is on the organic end of the spectrum. I write, and write, and write, and let structure come in later. Quite often, the words end up in a slush pile of sentences and ideas that will never been used. It’s not always the most efficient process. But it is a lot of fun.

I have to write and write and write to get to the end. Sometimes, it comes in one hit. Other times, it comes, but it’s not right. So I try again, with a new ending. I keep trying. It can literally take years. A story percolates at the back of my head, and endings pop up at strange times, like when I am doing the dishes.

I am sure a more organised person might plan an ending before setting out. Some might even start with the ending.

If you are on the organic end of the spectrum, like me, there’s a very important ingredient that makes this process work.

It’s all about compost.

Because you can’t get a rich writing garden, without compost, right?

Words are often debris that need to fall from the tree. When you write write write, or maybe write a hundred unfinished manuscripts (like me), you have to be prepared to let go of what isn’t working.

But it’s OK! Because those words you are letting go of are turning to compost and feeding all future writing activities.

It’s all practice.

And even if you’ve written a million words that will never see the light of day, and you never reach that perfect ending, the words are not wasted. In fact they are just making you a better writer.

Do you ever make compost? How do you get to the end of a story?

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  • Dani Netherclift

    June 8, 2017 at 11:59 pm Reply

    I’m a composter too. I have a very rough idea of how my book ends, and I work with rough chapter outlines, but that doesn’t stop entirely unexpected things from happening, and like you, certain things suddenly occur to me, like there is a little girl in my book who went missing in the 70s, but I had no more idea of what happened to her than a potential reader, the story wasn’t about that angle. Then one day I suddenly realised what happened to her, and how, and it was such a revelation. That is my favourite part of writing, the way that it reveals itself to you.

    • zanni

      June 16, 2017 at 11:13 am Reply

      Yes, that is the magic isn’t it Dani? I love that too. Yay for compost! Can’t wait to read your book one day x

  • Sandy Fussell

    June 17, 2017 at 8:18 am Reply

    I love this post! I’m an organic writer too! Now I have a way to describe what I do – thank you.

  • Kori

    June 26, 2017 at 3:38 am Reply

    Great to read this today Zanni. Tomorrow I have a huge chunk of time to have a go at writing another ending to my little story. I’m a composter too but I dont think I was aware of it till now x

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