THE LAST WORD
David C. Hughes
“Beginning in itself has no value, it is an end which makes beginning meaningful, we must end what we begun.”
― Amit Kalantri
On April 24, 2014, after almost three years of worrying, researching, interviewing, writing, imploring, and praying, I typed the last word of the last chapter needed to finish The Epiphany of Joy manuscript. The word was “said.” Yep, just plain ol’ “said.” It was in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a page near the end of chapter 16, an ooch past the two-thirds mark in the overall manuscript. I’d written the literal last word of the book a month prior (that word was “others”). That’s just the way I write.
When I wrote my first novel, On the Inside, which, incidentally, also took three years to produce, I generated the prologue and the epilogue first, then filled in the middle. I knew how I wanted the book to start, and I knew how it had to end, and I knew–sort of–how the story would transition from page 1 to page 510. So for several years the literal last word, “Medallion,” languished in a file somewhere on my computer’s hard drive, waiting patiently for me to type the actual last word so it could finally meet its predecessors. It did, and I was done. Yet I wasn’t, not in the least.
Almost twenty years later, when I typed the word “said” in The Epiphany of Joy, the feeling which descended over me was eerily reminiscent of when I typed the last word of On the Inside: it was anticlimactic. No bells clanged, no confetti fell from the ceiling, no applause erupted, no grunt of satisfaction or even acknowledgement emanated from my pursed lips; the only indication I’d even finished the manuscript was the muted “click” of the last keystroke on my laptop. Then you know what I did? I scrolled back to the beginning of the chapter and started cleaning it up. There was no hurrah, no deep breath of finality, no popping cork (the popping cork happened hours later). Chef Ramsay didn’t hug me and present to me a check for $250,000 and a new J.A. Henckels 16-piece knife set. I didn’t even call Mary to tell her the good news, and at least five minutes ticked by before I stopped to pray a word of thanks to God, the One who started this whole crazy deal.
And you know what I realized? For a writer, there’s never a last word. Never. Oh, we finish essays, we complete blog posts, we bring novels to a satisfying conclusion, we write “The End” at the bottom of a manuscript with a flourish, but it never really is “The End,” is it? Alas, no. It’s like the closing sequence of the 1958 horror classic, The Blob. As the helicopter flies over the flat, frozen tundra carrying the box containing the alien Jell-O mass, the words “The End?” pop onto the screen. The inflection rises as the scene fades to black, turning a traditional–and expected–declaration of finality into an open-ended question. And so it is with us: the inflection always rises because, like a mortician, a writer’s work is never done. Never. “The End” indicates the conclusion of one chapter of life and the teeing up of the next, a small section break inserted between one adventure and another.
But isn’t that the beauty of this craft? There are a million words in the English language, and, like the Blob, it continues to expand and grow as people touch it. The factory of human imagination, technology, functionality, and necessity churns out word after glorious word and adds them to the product selection, then we writers get to take those words and assemble them in infinite ways, limited only by our fears and misbeliefs. The joy isn’t in the finishing but in the process; “The End” is merely a road sign on the journey telling us we’re still heading in the right direction. “The End” is the signature on a masterpiece, or the baby’s breath amongst a handful of yellow roses. “The End” is not. Period.
As writers, our ordination, indeed, our obligation, is to take the pallet of a million words and craft as many beautiful combinations of those little pieces of experience, those iotas of pathos and jots of ethos, into our life’s work, our lifeblood, in the hope our careful (or not-so-careful) arrangement of the heart might inspire another heart to laugh, cry, love, live . . . awaken.
For me, “The End” is always the beginning. In fact, the title of my novel’s epilogue is “The Beginning.” No, for me, “The End” proves I’m just getting started. For me, “The End” is a rally cry to lower my head, raise my eyes, and charge forward. “The End” separates the real writers from those merely going through the motions; for real writers, “The End” is a carriage return rather than a hard stop. As Amit Kalantri said, “we must end what we begun,” but for a writer, there is no last word, only the next one.
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes