K=Know When It’s Over (Feb 12)

Now let’s go from that very spark to the very end.

No idea is ever “done”.  Art is never finished.  Instead, you just stop working on it.  This is a paraphrase of many famous artists (for one, it is said that George Lucas said this when deciding when to walk away from Star Wars). 

In a sense, this is a relief.  You don’t have to be perfect.  The biggest issue, it seems, is when to walk away.

Often “done” is connected to a deadline.  My co-writer once joked that 97% of all news stories are filed four minutes after deadline.  And deadlines do help.  Having a time limit forces you to focus (otherwise you may be JOTTING AND JAMMING forever).  It demands that you pull your disparate ideas together into a flow that a reader can follow and understand. 

But it doesn’t answer an essential question.  How do you know when something is done?

In writing the idea of “done” changes from genre to genre and section to section.  Take a research paper as an example.  There are three clear sections.  In the first, you ask yourself questions.  Have you cited all relevant research, both prominent and obscure?  Did you also show how that research, though valid, has left something undone, some stone unturned? 

For a story, the easiest measuring stick is this: is the journey done?  Has the character on that journey changed – and do we the audience feel it?

A good joke transmits an experience and ends on a punch.  When it does, it’s done. 

In a similar way, a sensory image in a poem should convey an emotion.  Can you name it?  Can you feel it?

The metaphorical finish line for writing can be a day away or years.  The real finish line is this: do the words move a reader where you, the writer, want them to go?

LEARN: Watch Jerry Seinfeld discuss his writing process for a single joke:

Then watch a final version of the joke:

USE: Write a single page narrative describing a single event from your childhood – start with the who / what / where / when and go! Tell your story then finish with the why; that is – what you took from the experience.   

As you write, do two things only: either advance the story (from one part to another) or color it (add specific sensory details to add detail to the most important parts),

Once you finish, put the paper or file it away for one day (this foreshadows tomorrow’s lesson!).  Bring it back the next day.  To tell your tale within a single page, ask yourself as you re-read: what’s important?  Let that question be your guide as you rework the story toward a satisfying end.


Published by robanderik

We are long-time writers and editors, now living in the Middle East. Our idea is to create a series of tips to help others improve their writing and editing skills. Think of it as a lesson plan for ESL learners that combines the practical with the aspirational.

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