So. A light is definitely visible up ahead and there’s a 90% chance that it isn’t somebody setting fire to your dog. The long tunnel is ending, you’re practically finished.
Finishing a short story is, naturally, not quite as glorious as finishing a novel. It won’t have taken you all that long to write, for one thing. And even if you know in your heart that you’re completing the finest example of writing’s most demanding form (Oh, yes it is.) you will also know that no one really wants it. The UK once offered all manner of magazines and anthologies, eager to welcome short fiction. Now you’ll end up scouring competition websites and trying to think thematically for a collection you’ll only be allowed to publish after you’ve written a proper book. Nevertheless, win or place in a prominent competition, or access any decent showcase and you’ll help the idea of you as a writer become more credible. And success can aid confidence – unless you’re Scottish. But remember – don’t rush this bit. Don’t feel you’ve necessarily gone insane if you end up prodding your last line for a week or two to get it right – because it’s your last line. It’s the full moon waiting outside at the end of the perfect dinner, it’s the orgasm after the prelude, it’s the perfect angel dancing on the head of the beautifully inevitable pin. You began with 360 degrees of possibility and brought it all down to this. Take your time.
If you’re finishing a novel the temptation to fling words in the general direction of what’s required and just get it over is even stronger. Maybe you have a deadline, maybe you long to recommence your life: even so, do make sure you have absolutely resolved every thread that needs it and allowed possibilities to rest open where they will add reality, because nature isn’t neat, after all. Have you finished your conversation? Have you driven yourself to say absolutely all you wanted to about your people, your world and your themes? Are you utterly exhausted? No, more exhausted than that? Well, okay then.
At which point, brace yourself for the most shatteringly anticlimactic event in the writer’s life. Nobody cares that you’ve finished your book. Those who love you may say something like, “That’s nice, dear.” Pals and acquaintances may not even offer that much. You’ll feel as if you’ve wrestled lions in an abyss – everyone else will think you’ve been sitting down self-indulgently for ages and now you’ve stopped. And if your pals and acquaintances are also writers – they’ll more or less hate you.
It’s an odd time and it can make you feel sour. But ride the comedown and then take time to note what you feel you’ve learned from your journey. Have a rest, pamper yourself – celebrate. Then enjoy the wonderful inrush of What’s Next. The hope it brings will get you through the stage which really makes a writer – rewriting.
This article is from a series of ‘How To...’ guides for emerging and developing writers, written in 2018/19 by A. L. Kennedy.
A. L. Kennedy was born in Dundee in 1965. She is the author of 17 books: 6 literary novels, 1 science fiction novel, 7 short story collections and 3 works of non-fiction. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She was twice included in the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list.
Her prose is published in a number of languages. She has won awards including the 2007 Costa Book Award and the Austrian State Prize for International Literature. She is also a dramatist for the stage, radio, TV and film. She is an essayist and regularly reads her work on BBC radio. She occasionally writes and performs one-person shows. She writes for a number of UK and overseas publications and for The Guardian Online.