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I’m a nonfiction writer who struggles with finding the right endings for my work. How do you end an essay and illuminate your overall meaning without hitting the reader over the head?
—Choose Your Own Adventure
This is a great question. If you haven’t figured it out, this is what people say when they’re stalling for time. I’m stalling because there are so many ways to go about this, and I have so many questions for you. Let’s play a Choose Your Own Adventure game of our very own, shall we?
If you feel like you have a moral to impart…well, just don’t. (I assume this is what you meant by “hitting the reader over the head.” If not, we’ll get to that possibility later.) Let the reader get there by themselves. Do not make the mistake a lot of lay preachers make, where they tell stories with the express end of getting a body to agree to one thing or another. That way lies resentment.
If you don’t know what your ending is…you probably haven’t done enough navel-gazing. Yes, I really mean this. You probably haven’t spent enough time rolling around in your idea, considering what it meant to you, to come to a conclusion that feels satisfying to you. To solve this problem, take a step back. Put the essay or article or post away for a week and come back to it. I don’t mean stop thinking about it, mind – by all means, talk about it with your friends; your writers’ group; on Facebook or Twitter – but stop writing about it for a bit.
If you mean that you have an ending but that it feels like you are beating the reader over the head with it…This most likely means that you have not done your work laying out the body of the essay. I do not mean you haven’t put effort into it. I mean you have not laid out a trail that helps the reader to reach the conclusion with you, and so it feels first like a ball and chain and then like the reader has to eat the ball and chain. Take a look at your language and at the work you’ve laid out so far: Are you showing vulnerability? Does the conclusion follow from the words that are on the page? Do the anecdotes you’re choosing make sense for the conclusion? What happens when you change it up a bit?
If none of this has helped you…Take a month and write to me again.
Conclusions are just the beginning,