End With the Beginning in Mind

My mother is one of the best copyeditors I know. She’s attentive, not just to spelling or punctuation, but to words at their essence. I couldn’t have a better role model for my work as an editor.

Mom recently read the latest draft of a novel I’ve been working on for fun since 2010. In her review, she didn’t pull punches — the best editors never do, even if you’ll be in charge of choosing their senior living center. She pointed out everything from typos to opportunities to further shape the characters.

One of her most significant suggestions was to change the ending. “Why don’t you bring it back to what you talked about at the beginning?” she asked.

I began to giggle. She asked why.

“I’m always telling writers that very same thing,” I explained.

It’s true. Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind” may be one of the seven habits of highly effective people, but highly effective magazine writers often turn that guideline inside out. They end with the beginning in mind.

Especially for those who don’t often write for a popular audience, ending with the beginning in mind can be a powerful technique. It doesn’t mean slavishly copying your beginning statement word for word at the end. That would be lazy, and we don’t like lazy. It just means making some reference to that beginning as you build your closing paragraphs.

The reference can be overt or subtle. Here’s an example from the January–February 2015 issue of Arizona Wildlife Views. In “Thirst,” authors Randall D. Babb and Anne Justice-Allen tackled the topic of wildlife and water. Which animals need lots of water, and which need hardly any?

In their first paragraph, the authors describe desert lands with their sudden storms and long dry spells as “places of either too much or too little” water. Five pages later, we find the next-to-last sentence of the article: “Struggling with too little or too much has and always will be a problem for creatures on this planet.” See how subtle that is? After 2,000 words, the reader may not even register it consciously.

When you end with the beginning in mind, you’re considering the emotional needs of those who read your prose. They made a commitment when they started this journey with you. You’ve tried to honor that commitment by entertaining them and giving them something to think about. Here at the end, pay attention as you wrap it up for them. Readers are human: They crave closure. Give them that satisfaction, and they will thank you.

This is not the only way to end a magazine article: What a boring world it would be for readers if that were the case. Ending with the beginning in mind is just one technique, but it’s a good one. Look for it in magazine articles you enjoy, and see how often it’s used. Lots of writers out there are taking my mother’s advice. Aren’t they smart!

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