Friday, 25 November 2011

Wrapping It Up - Learning to Let Go by Val Hamer

Wrap it up, baby! 

When I was fifteen I filled several school notebooks with what was to become famous in my family as ‘that dreadful ‘novel’ you made us read and comment on every evening.’ The characters were vibrant, the twists ridiculous, and with a cliffhanger at the end of pretty much every page it certainly wasn’t boring. What it lacked was an ending. That wasn’t much of an issue at the time, as the project was largely a diversion from hard core studying for school finals.

Writing was to remain a marginal hobby for the next twenty five years. Two and a half decades of short story outlines, index cards noting characters for a couple of books, witty titles for things I never wrote – more litter than literary all in all! Looking back on this leads me to one conclusion: writing style reflects personality.

In my case I enjoy the journey much more than the arrival. Ideas flow easily but are rarely seen through, and while planning is a joy I tend to disengage when the event itself occurs.

I am also really, really, bad at ending things. That explains why I stayed married way after it was over, or allowed toxic friendships to pollute my life and well being. Even minor things can be a struggle. Getting off the telephone, leaving a party or exiting a fleeting conversation with an acquaintance in the street all bring some level of anxiety!

A couple of years ago I started writing again, this time for money and in the nonfiction field. I really enjoyed producing short articles, Tweets and blog comments. I had no issues at all with organizing content into a logical start, middle and end where it was necessary. Perhaps I should have been satisfied with having found my niche? Not everyone needs to produce fiction, right? But like a kid with a fresh scab I couldn’t leave my writing inadequacies alone.

Last year, attracted to the idea of a major challenge I entered NaNoWriMo. Working like a fiend on the novel produced 50,016 words of rants and raves about my life at that time. Great stress relief but no closure. Yes, I’d ‘won’, but the achievement was less about quality than about reaching a word count goal. The process was therapeutic but didn’t address my underlying issues with writing.

In some ways I wondered if this really mattered. I was enjoying the writing work that came my way, and everything else in my life was great. Then I got my M.A. thesis feedback and found I’d basically swindled myself out of a lot of extra marks because, guess what? Yep – a weak and brief conclusion had let me down. What makes it worse is that I knew the ending wasn’t great at the time, but had felt unable to make it any better. This feedback was the shock I needed to turn things around.

Facing the flaws in my writing hasn’t been easy, especially because it calls for some serious personal introspection. I’ve spent the last eleven years overseas. This kind of transient lifestyle equates to living in the present: enjoying friends, jobs and relationships without the depth of emotional commitment that brings pain when they are over. Rather than being bad at endings I’d written them out of my conscious mind altogether!

I’m still a work in progress, but there are a few writing maxims which I find help.

Embrace who you are: Your personality and circumstances drive what you write, but you can manipulate the outcome. Fiction can be the place where the ideal ending is played out.

Leave space for a sequel: That way you can tidy up the loose ends without feeling like the story is over and done forever.

Plan: This may seem obvious but it’s something I have always resisted. Knowing that there are particular things I want to cover helps keep me on track.

I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge this year with a fresh attitude. As I write this I’m at the 54% mark and on track to reach the technical goal. For me the real reward will come when words 49,999 and 50,000 truly mean ‘The End’.

Valerie Hamer is a British born global nomad. Currently living in South Korea, she blogs about life abroad, travel, culture, teaching and writing. Being active on Twitter (@Farawayhammer), maintaining a Facebook page, writing two nonfiction works of art and planning her next travel adventure make for a busy and rewarding life.


  1. My nano count hit 50k today, and I'm at the mid-point of my novel.

    Your point on planning is key. It's probably the biggest change I've made to my writing in the last two years. Two months of planning before I start a first draft can take a year off the completion time of the final product.

    And while the 50k is the midpoint, I know pretty much everything I need to write to get to the end. December will be NaNoWriMo number 2 for me.

  2. Tony that's a brilliant achievement, your strategy obviously works. Looking forward to hearing more about the end result.

  3. ...that dreadful novel...Lol! ;) Great article and great job on NaNo! :D

  4. Hehehe. Thanks Maureen. I am already saying 'never again', chances are I'll change my mind though!

  5. Great article and some sound advice I'll try hard to incorporate, especially considering Tony McFadden's comments here. I think my fear of failure is behind my aversion to making a structured plan - if I don't have fixed goals I can't disappoint myself by missing them. The problem is I never really get off the ground. Perhaps it's time to be more ruthless with myself.