Interview with Ellen Million aka The Boss
Stars: A Walkthrough
The End is Nearby Ellen Million
Very little in this world is permanent. Projects and people have natural beginnings and natural endings. Beginnings are easy; they are filled with hope and ambition, opportunity and optimism. Middles are the meat of the thing; with the initial energy expended, there may be long drudgery, unexpected pitfalls, and equally unexpected successes. And no matter how long and brilliant a thing was, or how short and disappointing, there is inevitably an ending.
Endings are hard: How do you know when it's time to pull the plug on a project? How do you make an exit gracefully? And then what do you do? Many of the techniques for concluding a story apply directly to projects of all kinds.
How do you know when it's time ?
Evaluate your project honestly. Much like you get to a point in a story where you simply know that you need a climax and a resolution soon, you will probably see all kinds of signs that a project is near its ending point. Perhaps your publication has been coming out later and later each month - even skipping issues because of 'life' or 'circumstances.' Perhaps readership of your webcomic has dropped off markedly. Perhaps financial issues or personal stress are causing you to re-evaluate a project's place in your life.
One simple task that can help you with the evaluation is a simple balance sheet: Divide a sheet into halves and write out the pros and cons on opposite sides.
It isn't as straight-forward as counting up how many things are listed on each side - 'it costs me $2000 a month' may not balance equally with 'I get a lot of practice at my craft.' And 'I have fun with it' may trump everything! Just the act of writing out the pluses and minuses will help you put the project in perspective. It may help you identify some of the problems with it that are causing you stress, and maybe you can even find a way to solve them that doesn't involve closing up the doors.
Before you make rash announcements about ending your project, take at least two days to think about it. Dedicate one day to thinking about your stopping point - what you would do to tie things up, how you will feel without it occupying you, what complications your ending might cause, maybe what you'll do with the free time or money you'll have (or won't have, if you are ending a business venture!). And spend one day thinking about how you would continue it - what stresses it causes you and how to solve them, what improvements or changes you'd like to make, and what those would entail. Which day made you feel more stressed out? Did facing the idea of ending the project bring any sense of relief? The right answer will probably feel good.
How to end things
Go out with a Whimper: The Internet is littered with graveyards of projects that have faded away without conclusion. There are hundreds of webcomic starts that haven't been updated in months or years, forums that had bursts of activity, trailed into laments, and end with plaintive 'hello? Is anyone visiting this place anymore?' Hundreds of business sites with painfully '90s graphics have little tags that show 'last updated in 7 May, 2004,' and there are thousands of blogs with the last entries talking about the 2008 elections or the death of Michael Jackson. Sometimes posts or comments get sadly swarmed with spam.
These things never get the dignity of an official end, they just trail off and end from neglect, like a series of books that never makes it past volume 1 - sometimes ending on a cliffhanger. This is the way most projects end, but you can do better!
Go out with a Note: Even if you don't have the energy to go on, at the very minimum, have the grace to let your audience know that you don't plan to continue updating. It takes the mystery and frustration out of an abrupt ending, and can provide some closure in your own head. Don't make endless apologies or explain in gory detail your reasons (unless you want to), but be honest about your decision to stop. Simple clarity will save a lot of heartache and costs almost nothing in terms of time and energy.
Finish the Phrase: In music, a song is made of phrases. It may not sound finished if you end with a phrase in the middle of the song, but it's a little less jarring than ending on any old random note mid-measure. If you can finish the chapter you're on, and find a 'resting place' for your characters, it may not sting quite as badly to stop, and will give you and your audience a little satisfaction. Consider printing the rest of the story in a new format; if you are burnt out doing the artwork for a webcomic, for example, finish the story as prose so that your readers have closure, or share your script.
Go out with a Bang: Better than that, even, give your project a real, serious glorious conclusion. A well-written book makes the reader go away wanting more - but not feeling cheated of a resolution. Decide to end sometime in advance, and you can not only tie up the worst of the loose ends, but do so in style, with a whiz-bang gallop to the finishline full of energy and ambition. Finding that tangible end can be extremely motivating, and give you that last jolt of creative juice. Even if it wasn't the ending you originally pictured, it can still bring satisfaction. Let your audience or fellow project members know that the end is coming, and you may find that they are spurred to greater involvement, too, helping to make that last push easier and more rewarding.
Don't burn your Bridges: You may choose to leave your project in such a way that you have the option of picking it up some day in the future when other things in your life change. Consider not rashly killing off that character, and maybe keep that equipment in storage even if you don't think you'll need it anymore - at least for a little while. But most critically, leave your audience on good terms - a 'So long, suckers, I won't miss your crappy comments' might not be the best closing statement ever...
Projects with Co-conspirators
Projects with other people are more fun than most - all that creative energy bouncing around and reflected inspiration! But ending them requires a little more finesse.
Don't pull the rug out from your partners: If you are equal partners in a project, don't announce an ending without discussing it with your partner in advance! Even if you are a clear and obvious leader of something, be sure to discuss the issue with the people who will be most closely affected by it. Give someone else the chance to take up the reins, if you feel comfortable with it, or be honest and transparent about the reasons you wouldn't. Given them a chance to be involved in the ending, rather than cutting them off without warning.
Meet your commitments... or make reparations: Throughout the course of your project, you probably made some promises. Did you sell copies of a book you still need to get printed? Did you promise a picture in exchange for a level of donations that you met? If you don't think you can actually do what you said you would, 'fess up and say so, then make it right. Offer refunds if you need to, or some alternative, and apologize genuinely and personally, or it's not a healthy ending, and the wounds that remain may fester for a long time, damaging your reputation, and their trust.
Communication is key: Let the people involved know what's going on. Trust that they will support your decision, and allow discussion to occur. Some people find endings very disturbing and disruptive, and may need time and patience to cope. Try to be understanding!
Appreciate them! Make sure your readers and partners know how much you appreciated them throughout the project. Don't dwell on the missed deadlines or the lack of comments, just take a moment to so some gratitude for everything they did do.
You've done it. You've ended this thing, this project that you've invested so much time and creative energy into. Now what?
Regret it: Give yourself license to regret it. If you didn't do a few things wrong during the life of your project, you didn't do it right. Maybe you stepped on some toes, or didn't do some key things you should have. Experiments and challenges require a few failures, and you undoubtedly made more than a few. Don't ignore these - they are valuable lessons to take forward, and it is okay to feel bad for not doing things better... but not for too long, or too keenly.
Mourn it: You invested parts of yourself in this project! Take a moment to grieve and don't be surprised if you miss it, no matter how frustrating or stressful it got.
... and then...
Celebrate it! Remember all the good stuff! Raise a glass of bubbly to your accomplishments, and give yourself a pat on the back. Look back over your archives and let yourself be proud of the good stuff. However it ended up, the very act of creation is a powerful, amazing thing.
...and last of all...
Replace it! If you find that you have creative time and energy on your hands, start thinking about what you'd like to do next.
Even articles have ending...
Endings are a tangle of changed expectations, regrets and conclusions. Sometimes they are painful, sometimes they are glorious, but try to make the most of them!
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