On Finishing a Story

I follow #writingprompt on Twitter and found @toasted_cheese to be a good source of inspiration, even if it is mostly just making me want to write and never actually following the prompts.  Except for today.  If you head on over to the website you’ll discover there is a calendar of writing prompts.  I happened to skip ahead last month into the February prompts and read the one for today, and it didn’t really strike a chord in me.

This morning, however, when I went over to my TweetDeck window (which never seems to get closed anymore) and skimmed over the writing prompts, I discovered that I just couldn’t let it go.  Oh, I tried to let it go, reading my daily dose of comics and blogs, but it just kept nagging at me.  I started following even the most perfunctory of links in my friends feed to try and get my mind off of that prompt.

I failed miserable and wrote just shy of 450 words on it before getting so overly frustrated with it I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Someone said that meant I was doing it right.

Eventually I just closed that word processor window and continued to mill about online, still not having even touched my novel.  I couldn’t get this character I was writing about for some stupid prompt I wasn’t even interested in last week out of my head.

I sighed, exasperated, went outside, lit my cigarette, and paced.  It felt like I was obsessing over this new story that, in reality, meant nothing to me except for being a writing exercise to expand my skill as a writer.

Eventually I sat in my awesome smoking chair and closed my eyes, trying to get my mind off of the entire ordeal, ready to come inside and simply delete the entire file, when it happened.

There we were, both of us sitting at the bar, wallowing in whatever we were wallowing in: self-pity, shame, a lost job, an ended relationship.  I hadn’t been paying attention to anything around me, too busy trying to wash away my sorrow with the numbness brought on by my scotch, which was empty.  A disappointment.  I looked up hoping to catch the barkeeper’s attention, and saw her.  Whether it was merely the abruptness of my movement or she happened to be in need of a refill of the cure for the broken-hearted herself, I couldn’t be sure, but our eyes locked.

I raised the corner of my mouth in a half-hearted smile I knew couldn’t have possibly touched my eyes.  She returned my smile and even raised her hand in a half-hearted wave.  Suddenly everything was happening so quickly.

I grabbed my empty glass and went to her.  I said something.  She laughed.  And then suddenly, inexplicably we were kissing, her shirt on my living room floor, my pants around my ankles, and it was heaven…

Thankfully for the entire reading world that’s the end of that story.  And to save your imagination that didn’t actually happen (or did it?), but the point still stands: it was a sudden, gripping situation.  Suddenly, I had a completed story.  And entire work of flash fiction completed and saved, working title and all, on my hard drive.

How could this be?  How could I have gotten out of bed this morning, gone to my computer and not been able to think of anything to write for hours and then impetuously written an entire story?

I didn’t even have time to fully enjoy the afterglow of completing my work when a new itch, a new urge began to eat away at me…


So I ask, when is a story finished?  Is a story ever truly completed?

Certainly everyone knows when the story has been told, but at what point do you feel it has been polished, edited, revised enough that you can say, “That’s it, it’s done.  My work is complete.”