Now, on to business: I'm currently writing two books. I've done it before, and have posted about the practice here; there's good and bad to it, which I recognize. This is not about freaking out. Not yet.
What's interesting is the contrast. Since I knew there would be deadlines within a couple of months of each other, I started the second Samuel Hoenig Asperger's mystery (after the aforementioned Question of the Missing Head) early, in June for an October deadline. So by the time I started the seventh Haunted Guesthouse book, I was over 50,000 words (a little sort of 200 pages) into the Asperger's book.
So I'm essentially writing the ending of one novel while beginning another. And that creates the noticeable contrast between starting and finishing, since I get to see both at the same time.
Take it from me: Endings are way easier.
Yes, you still have to work hard at the end of a story. As a crime fiction writer, one wants to avoid the cliches, make sure the solution to the mystery makes sense, close up any plot holes, leave no threads dangling and leave your character(s) in a different place than where they were at the beginning of the book. It's a lot of balls to juggle, and often requires a good deal of rewriting.
But it is definitely the easier of the two tasks: An ending is the product of all that has come before it. That means there's been a trail blazed. Clues have been discovered. Suspects identified. There is forward momentum, and that helps when writing the last few scenes. Sure, you have to make sure the ending lives up to or exceeds expectations, but at least you know where you're going. And there's that comforting word count down at the bottom of the page to remind you that you've gotten this far, so you can certainly get to your goal. You have much less to write than you've already written.
Beginnings, on the other hand, have no safety net. You're starting from scratch, there is no word count at the bottom of the page at all, your characters haven't even shown up, let alone started on a path, and that plot idea you had doesn't seem all that clever anymore. For a pantser like me, with no 3x5 cards bearing scene ideas, no outline, no roadmap, beginnings represent nothing but uncertainty. Maybe this time they'll figure out what a fraud I am.
The Guesthouse books now have a certain familiarity and they include a feature that helps me start: In the first chapter of each novel in the series, I have to explain the premise, which is not really as simple as it used to be. That takes up a good few hundred words. So I have that security blanket: All I have to do is set up the scene, and then take a moment to write the most comfortable words I include in each Guesthouse novel:
Perhaps I should explain.
This is not to discount that explanation at the beginning of the book. It's necessary, especially for new readers who have just picked up the book because the cover is so pretty. It's been a year or so since the last one, so even devoted readers might need a refresher course on all things Harbor Haven. No, the "perhaps I should explain" moment is definitely a need, not a luxury.
I don't just plug in a canned recap there; each "explanation" is fresh and reimagined, if for no other reason than that the rules tend to change with each book and I need to continually revise to include new information. But that gets me through the beginning, and I have some words on the screen before I really have to do the heavy lifting that represents the plot of each book. Suspects. Clues. Motivations. Logic.
So endings are easy (ish). Beginnings are hard (er). With this many books under my belt (and you can see every one there, alas), I have at least a little confidence that I can end a book well, and some enthusiasm that the latest great idea for a plot will get me through a beginning.
But middles? Oh, man. Don't get me started.