Letting Go of Holding On

I am admittedly not a huge fan of NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month). In the early days of my writing journey I participated a few times, completed once, and through it all wrote some of the most gawd-awful prose you’ve ever (never will) read. *grins and winks*

But the thing I do like about NaNo is the way it pushes writers to finish. Granted, 50,000 words isn’t anywhere close to an actual novel, but in some cases it’s the thought that counts, the accomplishment that matters.

The end of a manuscript is such a strange zone. There’s a rush, an exhilaration which accompanies spilling out the last few chapters onto the page. You want it over and done. At the same time you’re dragging your feet, not wanting it to end. It’s a weird paradox – this push and pull over finishing and not finishing.

It’s this feeling that can often trip up new writers. This is the point where you start looking for other things to do. Where new ideas call your name with promises of excitement and adventure and it’s so hard to resist that siren’s song.

You have to push through that hesitation. This is the test. This is the moment where you can choose to follow through on what you’ve started, or let that shiny new idea drag you off the path.

It’s easy to be distracted. Harder to refocus yourself and finish the ending. This is really the most important point of your story and not the time to be skimping, rushing through, or otherwise neglecting your manuscript. You’ve spent a lot of time and energy on the beginning and middle, fixing the plot, setting up conflict, and letting the readers get to know the characters. Now is not the time to drop the ball and rush through the ending.

I feel like I’m throwing out a lot of trite phrases here, but bear with me as I’m lacking in caffeine this morning. *laughs* I do really have a point.

So how do you get through these crossroads? How to ignore the shiny, overcome the blahs, and finish up this manuscript you’ve worked so hard on?

There’s really no secret to this. You put your butt in your chair and your hands on the keyboard. You write. It might suck. It might take you an hour for a paragraph, days for a chapter, but you keep writing. You keep writing until you type – The End.

I don’t do NaNo anymore, because as I said I felt like the focus on getting to the end was too much and the product I was putting out was more focused on quantity of words than the quality. That’s where you really have to put the work in, once you’ve accomplished that hurdle of finishing you can focus on the more important tasks – like polishing your manuscript until it shines.

What about you, readers? Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? What do you do as writers to get through that dreaded dead zone of finishing up a novel?

K.B. Wagers

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19 responses to “Letting Go of Holding On

  1. I’ve participated a few times in NaNoWriMo…never successfully lol.

  2. I tried once, and got nowhere with it. Essays and short articles, I can write on deadline. Novels, not so much.

  3. I’ve done NaNo three times now and only made it to 50k once. I love it because it gives me an outside impetus to get the writing done with measurable daily goals. My lazy self LOVES that.

    I’ve always just worried about writing 50k words. Whether that gets me to the end or not is irrelevant.

    • That kind of self-imposed deadline is definitely a good thing for anyone wanting to make a career of writing. 😀 The best advice I ever got was to do that while I still had a choice because then it would become habit.

      I’ve heard a lot more people cautioning against writing a “full” novel these days, but I remember when I first stumbled on NaNo it seemed like there was a push to actually finish the story in the 50k rather than just write something.

  4. Great post!! I’ve never done NaNo. Never even been tempted. But I write on self-imposed deadlines all the time (as you know) because I believe training yourself to be dedicated about the work and proving to yourself that you can write under the gun as needed is all part of setting yourself up for success.

    As for the end? It’s never that hard, once I’ve found the last line. For me, it’s as critical as the first sentence, and I want to know what it is by the time I hit the last 20K or so, if possible. Once I have it, I’m good to go, and the story just carries me there, usually in a glorious rush. 🙂

    Lisa

  5. I’ve never done NaNo nor the similar event for screenwriting. But i have been under the gun to finish a screenplay in a few weeks. Part of me liked the pressure of being under the gun and part of me hated it. Having said that, I should remind you all that a screenplay only has about an average of 20,000 words–a lot less than 50,000… a puny amount in the eyes of the novelist. But before you pooh-pooh me, remember, we screenwriters must tell our story, in those puny few words and there in lies the conundrum. 😉

    Wally

  6. I tried it once last year but did not complete it, got as far as 18K words and filed it away. I don’t dispute that it’s a useful process to be able to push through and finish, but I felt I was just vomiting words on a page , and I’m the type who needs to edit as I go. It’s a slower process to write my way, but in the end, it’s how I work, and the end product is much more “finished.”
    eden

    • Precisely Eden!

      I don’t really edit as I go, I’m good at a zero draft and then going back to clean up. But the quality of the stuff I was writing started affecting my writing after November was long over and so I abandoned it as a useful tool.

  7. First of all, congratulations on having finished. Second, congratulations on a really fine post. You’ve described the process beautifully—how to overcome the hurdles and everything.

    To answer your question, I don’t think I’d attempt it unless I had the entire month to write. When I set about a project, I insist on finishing. I wrote 85% (+/-) of my 86K thriller in only three months while working full time. I think I could do 50K in a month, although it would be a grizzly first draft. I really enjoy rewrites, however, so if I had some sort of skeleton on which to hang any changes after the fact, I think I’d have a wonderful time. We shall see. In any case, you’ve piqued my curiosity enough it will probably nag at me until I’ve tried it.

    Curse you, Red Baron!

    • LMAO. Sorry!

      The trick (or point I suppose) is to convince people that you can “find the time” to write. That’s one of the reasons it’s in November (as the start of the holiday season it tends to muck with people’s free time) and why it’s 30 days. Because the reality is that you “only” have to write like 1,700 words a day to finish and when I was writing full-time I could easily triple that number.

      I think if one approaches it correctly it really can be a helpful tool.

  8. I coordinate NaNoWriMo programs for the library system, but I’ve only done it correctly once, (that is write the 50,000 words). I used it as an outline. I did it once revising a book. That was actually my goal this year, but it ended up I didn’t get the entire book revised. I did get 1/3 of it done though, so that’s a great beginning. I know I can write fast when I need to, but I enjoy doing my books one chapter at a time. I can write that in 2 hours. (We’re talking rough draft). NaNoWriMo is great for beginning writers.

  9. Even worse, I’ve done the three day novel contest a bunch of time. It’s actually slightly more than 3 days – the Labor Day weekend. I’ve got a fantasy novella that I’m pretty sure I’ll go back to, do some revising and sell some day. I’ve got a terrific two person play – though at this point it’s in the form of letters, that I wrote with a friend (which you’re allowed to do). I couldn’t do it for a month, though I have written a 70,000 word novel in 6 weeks (and it was published after some relatively minor revisions). I love the thrill of the 3 days, it’s a great way to get the bones down and see whether or not there’s actually a book there.

    Kate

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