Donkey, having been stuck with a pin, kicks nearest writer in the head.

pin the tail on the donkey
pin the tail on the donkey

When you play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, you wear a blindfold and get spun around and pushed forward. Kids scream and laugh as you jab the tail in air and try to stick a pin in a donkey’s behind. Sounds great.

Some kids wildly run at the donkey. Other kids are methodical. Other kids don’t care. But eventually they each decide–this is where I will put this blankety-blank tail.

I feel like my writing life is like this. I’m dizzy and in the dark and eventually I’ve got to say–this is it. The story is done. Did I win?

Winning is much more clear cut with donkey. Less so with novels. At least I knew I was invited to the birthday party. No matter how many times I do it, any time I tell someone I write, I feel like I’ve gotten caught party crashing. Or I’ve come in costume and, you know, everyone else looks normal. Or I’ve tried the game and torn the donkey off the wall and into pieces. And that no one else there has a sense of humor about it.

How do you feel when you tell someone you write. Not even the strong–I’m a writer. Just it’s timid friend–I write.

More importantly–how do you know when a story is done?

8 thoughts on “Donkey, having been stuck with a pin, kicks nearest writer in the head.

  1. 1) Still feel apologetic and nervous as I’ve only recently started saying ‘I’m a writer’ (as in – uh, well … (bumbling british self abasement) … I take care of the kids, I run a business, oh – and I write). Maybe once the book is in print lights will be brave enought to come out from under bushels.

    2) I have a theory stories just stop at a point in time – I thought I was done with the first book, then the editor cut 25000 words including the ending. No doubt the publisher’s editor will have ideas too. Different people would do different things to your story. In your hands, the story reaches a point where – as Shelly points out – adding stuff just doesn’t work anymore. Then it’s time to cut and polish …

  2. I feel like I’m coming out of the closet when I say I write, which gives me a feeling of solidarity with all others who take risks. I also feel like I’m honoring a part of myself that I have not always taken enough care of.

    I’ve never really had problems knowing when to stop- something internal says “done.” I have much more trouble deciding where to start, and trusting that I’ve made the right choice. I rewrote the begining of my novel many, many times, but once I got beyond that first indecision, I was able to keep going, and then to stop.

  3. Luckily (?), my “real” job title makes well-meaning questioners immediately change the subject:

    “Oh,” I say, “I’m a database analyst. You know. A computer programmer. Do some Web development too.” This doesn’t really change the subject — immediately they want help with their computers, or they want a domain name or something. But it does make us stop talking about careers, including second ones.

    Sometimes, though, The Missus is with me at the time; she always mentions the writing. I do have a certain leg up because I can say that yes, I’ve had a novel and a number of tech-reference books published… But, as you know, I am not really a joyful, enthusiastic promoter of my fiction-writing experience. So I go through this sort of frantic pre-verbal hand-waving to get us off the subject. You’d think they’d asked me to discuss my hidden past as a strip-mining coal baron or something.

    (It does come in handy when I need to shut someone up, though, like the sneerer who assumes that “John’s a writer” means I write soggy poetry for my eyes only.)

    Shelly’s answers are great. Especially the second one.

    I read something once in which a writer who’d had a lot of short fiction published in The New Yorker complained that the editor kept lopping off the last paragraph or two. The writer wasn’t complaining about the cuts; s/he was complaining because it always made the stories much better. That was always a sobering thought to me.

  4. I kinda like it when I say I am a writer, because it gives me an excuse for being, say a waitress, or say a stay at home mom who is a terrible housekeeper. I mean, I’m busy with my writing stuff. Really, I’m a work at home mom who doesn’t get paid. And it gives me an excuse for not teaching anymore. I “quit to write.” Wow. Cool. How dedicated. A starving artist. How exotic.

    I don’t know if I know when a work is finished. I just get scared and run away. Okay, that doesn’t sound good at all.

  5. I’m with Rowena on the answer to Q #1. I feel like my life suddenly matters. B4 when folks asked what I did, I said I was a stay-at-home-mom. Conversation-ender unless it was with another SAHM. Yes, my job is the “most difficult”. Yes, that job is “the most important” and “the most rewarding” and no, I wouldn’t let anyone else do it for me, but some days, most days, it is also the most boring, redundant, mind-numbing career choice. Make breakfast, make lunch, get 2nd grader off to bus, check email, play Dump All of the Toys onto the Floor with the toddler, feed toddler lunch, put him down for nap, do some laundry, clean a bathroom, try to write a post, get son from bus, make a snack, check homework, make dinner, get boys to play together, tidy toys, bathtime, bedtime. Repeat. Throw in a weekly cub scout meeting and guitar lessons to shake it all up and referee a LOT of sibling disagreements over toy ownership.
    When I say I’m an SAHM AND I write, there is a 15% increase in the popularity polls. Although, there is always the cautious, “What do you write and does anyone actually read your material?” Apparently, no one wants to meet a mere journal-keeper. Since my blog is anonymous, I have to answer the question very carefully, but the answer is acceptable to the listener and I have become a Person rather than a bland house wife.

    Q #2. I just know. I am always surprised by how I end my writing, but I can feel the excitement building when my brain starts to put the ending together, usually 4-5 paragraphs b4 the last word. I love it. The endings always please me. Always. And once I feel pleased. I. Stop.

  6. Sophie, the year I stayed home I felt boring. Now that I work I feel guilty. Like I have justify myself. Saying I’m a writer just feels awkward, like I’m putting on airs or something silly. But you can’t possibly be bland.

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