When you run a part of the relay and pass on the baton, there is no sense of unfinished business in your mind. There is just the sense of having done your part to the best of your ability. ~ N.R. Narayana Murthy
I’m not a runner. I really never have been, though I did run from bullies when I was in elementary school. For a while I ran around my neighborhood, too, until loose dogs made me stop. Or at least that was my excuse for stopping. That’s pretty much it.
But I’m a big fan of the Olympics. I watch the runners go around the track, and I envy them. I love the relay because each runner goes all out for only a quarter of the race, but that’s it. That’s their job. It will forever be unfinished for them.
The baton is the only part of the relay that completes the entire cycle.
It’s something I think about a lot, the idea of trusting in others to get something finished that I’ve started. Working in groups to get something done feels so much like that, and I always worry. Perhaps I should trust others more, but in my experience, if I don’t do it, then it won’t get done. Leaving my part of it sitting there, incomplete, just drives me insane, and yet I don’t feel like I can hover over anyone else’s shoulder either. I just have to sit down on the grass and cheer on my teammates.
This happens in a completely different way when I think of creative work. When I first began writing, it was easy to start the story, to commence the tale. The words generally flowed, and my characters ended up doing things, but the ending was too difficult. Either it was too clunky, or too pat, or too convoluted, or even too confusing. But one thing it never truly was, was finished. So I would delete my endings, and the stories themselves would sit there collecting dust on my hard drive.
In this way I had over 40 stories that I started but had no end in sight.
It’s not easy to finish things. Especially when there are always other things to start. Especially when there is always some other inspiration queued up, waiting to be realized. So I force myself to take time and energy, more than at any other time in the writing process, on forming endings, on drawing the pieces together and tying them tight like a package. Doing anything less, these days, would be a slight to the work that came before it. I don’t allow my writing pieces to stagnate anymore because the longer I go without being in that world the more I know I will never return.
I don’t mind not returning, by the way, but only when I know that world has been sewn up, when I know everything is finished, for good, for bad, or for other. I think that’s why I’m not a fan of the cliffhanger.
When I feel something is unfinished I work hard to get it done, to cauterize any wounds and give it my blessing. Some day I think I’ll go back to those 40-some manuscripts that have been collecting dust, try to re-immerse myself in those worlds, and get them completed.
I read this book recently about characters who are obsessed with a book that is unfinished. It was published but it ended mid-sentence. I can understand the obsession. As a writer myself, I want to know why she never finished. I want to know what could have possibly made her think that was the only possible ending — a non-ending.
It drives my mind to distraction, the idea that something isn’t done. Even if I’m not a fan of the eventual ending, at least end the thing.
Maybe I’m so caught up in this idea of unfinished things because I, too, am unfinished. I am a work in progress, sometimes progressing for good, sometimes going backwards, and sometimes stagnating. But always unfinished.