Both diaries and autobiographies are difficult to end. Where diarists struggle to find the last words, autobiographies are prone to being revised after a first draft is complete. This essay compares several heavily rewritten autobiographies from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Leslie Stephen’s Mausoleum Book, Virginia Woolf ’s “A Sketch of the Past” and James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It argues that the problem of finishing a text is historically constituted, and shows why critics interested in life writing should pay closer attention to genetic processes.