Photo by Dustin Cohen

By the time Joyce Carol Oates begins writing, she already knows the ending and crucial scenes and character descriptions for her novels.

I could not help but notice how odd this is. I suppose that to some extent, every writer has an idea of how they want their story to end but usually it changes by the time they get to the end. At least, that is the case for me as a writer. But not for Oates, she definitively knows the ending and other specific details of her novels. I came across this tidbit of information when doing research on Oates. It was in an essay titled, Joyce Carol Oates: The unique and universal, by Hillary Casavant.

The essay goes on to describe Oates’ writing process, specifically for her novels and short stories. Her stories are always based off of reality and she takes pieces of real life experiences or information she comes across and turns them into a story. That’s where she begins her writing. Then once she determines the ending and writes a first draft, she leaves the piece for a bit and works on other writing. By her final step, Casavant writes, “Oates has laid the groundwork for a story that captures her personal experience, rather than manufactured emotions.”

As I was reading this essay, I couldn’t help but think how different this process is from writing an essay and even more so, how this differs from how life happens. You generally do not know the ending of your essay before beginning to write it. You probably have an idea but that idea is bound to change throughout the writing process. In life, you have absolutely no idea how it will end. You don’t even know how your day will end because every day is unpredictable. That is why I found it so odd that Joyce Carol Oates already knows the endings of her novels before even beginning to write them. In what other facet of life can you be sure that you 100 percent know the ending? Off the top of my head, I can think of nothing. Maybe there are more things than writing and I am just blinded by my own beliefs. Either way, it is still supremely interesting to me how unpredictable ends can be.

I was reading one of Joyce’s essays, A Widow’s Story, about the death of her husband, and this thought was running circles through my brain. Her husband had gotten pneumonia and needed to be admitted to the hospital. For a while he was not doing very well, he was having troubles with his heart rate and then he developed multiple infections in his lungs. After he made it through all that, things began to look up. His oxygen intake had increased and there was a chance that he would be discharged in a few days. Joyce recounted how relieved she felt and how she decided to go home to get some much needed sleep. She thought the ending to this event would be having her husband come home relatively soon and everything would be better. Later that night she gets a call saying her husband is in critical condition and by the time she gets to the hospital, he has passed away. The ending was completely unexpected; she didn’t think this up before writing it all down on a piece of paper in her office. She didn’t know that her husband would get multiple infections or that she would be woken up in the middle of the night by the phone ringing “at the wrong time.” Endings outside of writing are so unpredictable, you never know what is going to happen. You may think something is going to end one way but then it takes a turn and ends completely differently.

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