Words turn into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and eventually the logical structure of a story appears. But when does it stop? On the last day of a novel class I’ve been teaching a student asked, “How do we know we’ve reached the end?”

I thought about this—no one in the class had reached an end, but how did I know that? The simple, flippant answer is, it’s over when everyone is dead. But that’s not very satisfying. All the characters in the students’ novels-in-progress were still on the brink of trouble. There was no resolution to the main problem. I thought about my own novel-in-progress, which now has an end. I know it is the end. How? The protagonist has survived a long, hard journey and she is not dead. She’s alive. She’s okay. For now.

I thought about my current life and the difficulties I’ve been going through the past few months. For a moment I thought things were over (I’ve added melodrama here for effect, things were not anywhere near over—so don’t worry). It was not the end. And even though some of those difficulties are “over” now, there will be more as long as I am alive—that’s life, right? Life is not the same as fiction, right?

A week after class I dined with a wise philosopher friend (always useful to have one). We talked of life, literature, art. I told him how hard things have been, I told him about my novel, I told him about my student’s question. This is what he said: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”