Pushing Through the End of a Novel

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Kids by MGMT)

Well, I forced myself to sit down today and write an entire chapter – 3,000 words. It’s been a few weeks since I made myself do that much writing; lately it’s been a struggle to even get down 1500. If I’m being honest, seeing a few of my fellow bloggers battling Camp NaNoWriMo was what helped me get back on the horse. (Apparently, I’m not the only one who struggles with writing.)

Anyway, I just wanted to pop on real quick to give an update and also to share some advice for what’s worked for me when you get towards the end of your novel. Symphony of Legend nearly became the third time I’ve stopped in the last few chapters of an almost-completed project, and I think I know why.

Part of it is reluctance, the same way we as readers feel reluctant to end something that’s been a core part of our lives for a month or two. Another part of it is fear – we’ve spent so long thinking about the conclusion of character arcs, the climax of the story, and its eventual resolution, that we’re afraid now that when it gets on paper, it won’t be as [satisfying/gripping/harrowing] as we imagined it to be. And of course, there’s the usual hesitation to write for various life distractions and reasons.

But if I’m really narrowing down on what scares us in these last few chapters, it’s gotta be the second reason I stated. Every author fears that no one else will find their work as entrancing as they do, and we try to keep ourselves from the REAL DARK QUESTION (Am I just not good at making up stories?) by making it a mechanical thing – more along the lines of, “Am I going to fail at writing my story down in a way that grips my audience?” This is a helpful way for most of us to look at it because then it becomes something solvable, a simple matter of finding the right words.

I would urge you to stay away from the REAL DARK QUESTION, especially when you’re finishing your novel. There’s no need to consider that when you’re in the middle of a project. Also, there may not be a need to consider that, like, ever. It’s just not helpful to sap at your own will or determination. Let the publishing companies and literary agencies do that.

So if it is a mechanical thing, my next suggestion to you is to remember that this is a first draft. If you’ve been writing your first draft the way I do, you’ve been hurrying through it, just getting the ideas down without worry for grammatical errors, gaping plot holes, or unnecessary sentences… okay, paragraphs… okay, chapters that don’t need to be there.

So why would it matter that your conclusion isn’t that great? None of the rest of your project will be from that first-draft perspective. That’s what your second draft is for – to find and root out everything gross and bad. I think we as authors put an unfair pressure on key moments of our novel to be better than the rest, just from the get-go, and that’s kind of a weird thing to think. Just because this is the most important part of your book doesn’t mean it’s not gonna be kinda crappy the first time around, like everything. The most important thing is to polish it later, after you’ve had a few months with the whole thing locked in a drawer so you have fresh perspective.

Related to that, I would also try to keep you from fiddling with the last chapters as you write them. You’ve probably got an outline or a list of scenes; stick rigorously to that as you finish up. Don’t try to immediately edit, not now, not ever. Just get down what you know is important to get down.

Finally, as you’re heading into the end, know your own writing habits. If you know you’re not any good if you’re not writing every day, force yourself to keep on with your writing schedule until the end. If you know you tend to get burnt out if you write too much too quickly, make sure you take a break in between each chapter. I once wrote the last five chapters of a novel (comprising about 15,000 words) in a single night, and when I came back to editing, it was a tangle of terrible prose and weird emotional swings that I’m sure felt great when I was up at 3 AM, but looked horrible in the light of day.

And, of course, after you’re finished, congratulate yourself. You fucking deserve it. If you don’t believe you deserve it, tell anyone you know (who doesn’t know you’re a writer) that you finished a novel. In my experience, they don’t even ask if it’s been published, or how many words it is, or whether it is good at all – they are simply awed by the fact that you put 50,000 words to paper. And you should be a little awed too, because it’s a goddamn difficult thing to finish, even at the best of times. So get a teeny bottle of champagne, put your computer away for a little while before you get back to editing, and just enjoy the fact that it’s done.

Camp NaNoWriMo homies – I believe in you. Keep digging at it, keep pushing yourselves more and more. You can only get better because of it. And if you ever need to take a break, hit me up in the comments and I’ll tell you the first stupid thing that pops into my head. That’s a guarantee 😀

Yours, with only four chapters to go,

-R.R. Buck

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