When The Finish Line Is So Close…But Still So Far (An End-Of-NaNoWriMo Pep Talk)

So, we have a few days left of NaNoWriMo, and for some of you, the finish line might be in sight. Personally, while I passed the 50k word mark last week, I am nowhere NEAR the end of this manuscript. Truth be told, I’m probably just somewhere near the start of the middle (Oy.). BUT I’ve written quite a few manuscripts before this (sixteen full ones, and a handful of still-incomplete ones waiting for a rainy day/month/year for me to finish them), so even though this is my first NaNoWriMo, I’m relying on over ten years of steady writing experience/instinct to get me through the rest of this book.

But some of you might be way nearer to the finish line than I am. And, thanks to all those manuscripts I’ve written, I totally know what it feels like to be in this stage. You might be totally pumped to be near the end—being near it might give you a second wind to get you through the rest of the manuscript. But, if you’re like me, then the home stretch might seem like the longest part of the journey. The exhaustion, the doubts starting to creep in, the worry that you’ve just wasted X-many days on a book that sucks, or is broken, or no one but you will ever love.

The exhaustion is understandable. No matter how long it takes for me to write a manuscript, by the time I get to the climax & ending, I feel like I’ve been run over by an 18-wheeler and then thrown into a ditch to be eaten by wild dogs. I’m usually going on empty, fueled only by caffeine and a ridiculous/insufferable stubborn streak that hates—absolutely HATES—quitting.

But even that stubborn streak has to deal with the doubts, those horrible whispers that start reciting a list of all the things that are wrong with the book. And usually, that list is very, very long. It’s hard to shut out those voices, especially when it seems that the best solution is to stop and revise. Or just stop all together.

Everyone’s writing experience/process is different, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about writing a book. But in MY experience, the best way to deal with those negative voices, with that creeping sense of horror at possibly having a POS manuscript, is to ignore them. For now. Put on your blinders, plug your ears, and write the ending. Don’t stop until you’ve written “The End” (or whatever the last words of your book are).

Don’t. Stop. Writing.


I don’t know a single author who writes perfect first drafts. I don’t think perfect first drafts exist, actually.

And when I’m drafting, I give myself permission to write pure crap. When I’m drafting, my #1 job is to just get down the bones of the story. Later, the breaking and mending and filling-in can happen. So no matter how loud those voices get by the end of that first draft, no matter how long the list of things to fix might be, I don’t stop writing. Even if I later wind up rewriting the ending completely, just writing SOMETHING, finishing that manuscript, gives me a much-needed sense of accomplishment and closure.

Even if you need to rewrite every single word, just think about it: you wrote a freaking BOOK. How many people can say they’ve ever done that? Think about the positives; think about what you’ve accomplished—and keep writing until the very end.

Susan Dennard will be posting next week about what to expect during the revision process, so I won’t go into it much right now. But I have this quote taped to the wall above my desk—a quote I’ve had up there for years and years. It’s from one of my all-time favorite books—Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander. And every time I feel like my first draft is crap, or like I should just give up and delete the whole thing, I read it and keep going. Sounds cheesy, and maybe it is, but I think it captures drafting (and NaNoWriMo) pretty well:

“Life’s a forge!” cried the smith, as Taran, his brow streaming, beat the strip of metal. “Yes, and hammer and anvil, too! You’ll be roasted, smelted, and pounded, and you’ll scarce know what’s happening to you. But stand boldly to it! Metal’s worthless till it’s shaped and tempered! Face the pounding; don’t fear the proving; and you’ll stand well against any hammer and anvil!”

So, stand boldly to it. The finish line is SO close, and even if you drag your feet every last inch, even if you’re carried over the finish line by sheer stubbornness or the support of your friends…Don’t stop writing. You CAN do this.

I promise.


15 Responses to When The Finish Line Is So Close…But Still So Far (An End-Of-NaNoWriMo Pep Talk)

  1. Bonnee Nov 28 2012 at 5:19 am #

    I don’t think the quote is too cheesy… Okay, it’s very cheesy, but it’s a quote worth listening to! This was a great post and thanks for sharing. Hopefully those out there who are struggling through their last few days on NaNoWriMo will be inspired and kick their butts back into gear for the homestretch.

  2. Marc Vun Kannon Nov 28 2012 at 6:09 am #

    I don’t even know what a first draft is. I’ve never written a story by just plowing through from the first page to the last. I’m always rereading what I did before, if only get an idea for where i want to go next, and I make tweaks as I go. If I get an idea that needs to be set up, I go back through the book to add the elements needed to set up what I’m doing now. When word processing programs make it so easy to go back and amend, what exactly does ‘first draft’ mean?

  3. Chantal Nov 28 2012 at 6:54 am #

    Good post! This is my first NaNoWriMo, and my first time writing anything…ever. I didn’t get even close to 50k, but I did hit the 20k mark yesterday and hope to get 25k before November is over. I’m pretty happy with that, and it gives me good ground to stand on to continue on with the book. I know that some of what I’ve written is crap, or has continuity errors, and I’m totally pants-ing the story, but I think once I’ve written it, I’ll have a good sense of what my book is and who my characters are, and be able to go back and tune up and amend, again and again and again haha. I just want to be able to say I wrote a book ^.^

    • Sarah J. Maas Nov 28 2012 at 2:14 pm #

      Awww, thanks, Chantal!!

      And WOOOO! 20k is still awesome!! You are 110% right–only by plowing through that first draft (however long it takes) can you figure out all the super-important stuff!!

      I KNOW you’ll finish your book (whether that’s in November, December, or next year)! Keep writing! 🙂

  4. Melinda Harrison Nov 28 2012 at 8:53 am #

    This is my first time at writing a draft without revision, which I found difficult. I’ve never written a story of any kind like this previously and I’ve written lots of stories. For me, a first draft this time around was to sit down and write a story without making revisions of any kind. This is what I wanted to do with NaNoWriMo. However, I planned carefully for NaNoWriMo in that I plotted and outlined beforehand.

    How I was able to write the 50,000 words without revision this time was to make notes on revision as I wrote. And very quickly, because I did not want to slow down the flow of words. I used post-its and stuck them on my desk as I wrote. And then at the end of each week, I wrote them down in a notebook and gathered my thoughts.

    I finished on Nov 25, averaging 2000 words a day. It was not the end of my novel, unfortunately. I have ten more chapters to do, which I am doing in December. I took a week off to tune the plot after making some changes.

    I’ve learned a lot working through this process. I would definitely do it again.

    I’ve also created a process for revision, in how I will do that. In several layers.

    My goal: I want to be able to write faster and work with more method because I’d like to write full time and make some money from it.

    I never underestimate how other writers work, because writing like any art is always instinctive and personal. But I’ve found the Internet helpful in learning exactly how others work, which has helped me change my process for the better.

    If you are a perfectionist, learning to write a first draft quickly without re-reading or revision is a useful tool.

    Also, it goes back to the idea that a book cannot be all things and that sometimes, a writer must simply make choices and then make it all work. Finish. Move on to the next thing. I want to be able to do that.

    Great post. Helped me a lot. Thanks.

    • Sarah J. Maas Nov 28 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      Glad to hear it!

      Congrats on finishing, Melinda!! And thanks for the insight! 🙂

  5. Loie Nov 28 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Aww Sarah, awesome post 😀

    I’m nearing the finish line…I think hahah…and am getting excited. But true say, am also exhausted. I’ve been balancing uni life with my NaNo project and am definitely feeling drawn out.

    Good luck with the last few days!!
    Loie xo

    • Sarah J. Maas Nov 28 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks, Loie!! I have no idea how you’re managing to balance school with NaNo, but I am SO impressed that you’ve made it this far! Keep up the good work!! 🙂

  6. Alex Ray Nov 28 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    This was wonderful to read. I’ve reached the half point in my manuscript and thinking about the last half is so exciting, but… my NaNo goal is finished. The motivation that pushed me every day this month is gone, and all I can hear are those doubts that say that I don’t have the discipline to continue, because truth be told I haven’t had it in the past. I thrive on contests and pressure and all that forceful motivation stuff. But it’s time to start JUST DOING IT.

    • Sarah J. Maas Nov 28 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Awww, thanks! And you can TOTALLY finish–you’re so, so right…you just gotta start doing it. 🙂 🙂 GOOD LUCK!

  7. Inky Nov 28 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    I love your pep talk! Haha! It’s got me pumped to cram in words, er write till my fingers bleed, to catch up and win! It’ll be my fourth book and I really don’t know how I fell so behind,…oh YEAH I’m a student with a crazy life. TEHE. But well, either way I loved reading your post! *So Ready To Write Away* Haha thanks for the awesome encouragement! I’m getting 50K if I have to stay up all night on the 30th. 😀 I actually did last year. Haha. Finished 40 min from the deadline. Made it twenty later, but I plan on winning with flying colors! Keep up the awesome writing!!!!
    XOXOXO, Inky

  8. Alexa (Loves Books) Nov 28 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I am in the home stretch for 50K BUT I have realized that I am NOWHERE near done with this novel. It’s got a story, sort of, but there needs to be more info added, more scenes written and just MORE. I have, however, never hit 50k before, so I consider that an achievement.

    I absolutely agree with your advice – just keep writing. Writing without second guessing myself is hard, but once I overcome the initial doubt and hesitation, I find that the words just keep coming. I don’t know what’s going to come of what I’ve written – but at least I wrote something.

  9. Christa Nov 29 2012 at 10:35 am #

    I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one that starts dragging their feet near the end of the manuscript. My mind keeps wandering back to things that need to be changed and researched further and distracts me from actually reaching the finish line

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