This week, a reader sent in a question on a topic that we haven't covered as much on the site: what to do when you reach the end of a project. I am so glad to get this question, since finishing is the whole part of starting a project, and being able to finish in a way you are pleased with is every bit as important as finding the motivation to start.
"Dear Ask Remabulous,
I made a goal to finish the
first draft of my novel on November 4th. Now that the date is coming
up, I realize that it won't happen--but I know the book will be
finished sometime in the next month. I'm guessing I'm about 30 pages
away from the end, which is so close, and yet, I am feeling lazy as
ever. I am also teaching three classes and working a part-time job I
recently got to pay the bills. It seems like you work with a lot of
clients who are just starting out with new projects and a new career,
but I wonder what you might to say to someone like me, who's neck deep
in something. How can I make the most of this home stretch so that
finishing the first draft energizes me for the long phase of revision?
And what's with my utter lack of productivity?
image: "Typewriter of Capricorn" by emdot.
Dear Nearly-there Novelist,
Thanks so much for your question. And congratulations on being almost finished with your first draft! You bring up a great point about finishing things, as that is one of the most important parts of a project.
I am glad that you shared the fact that this is a first draft. I think the lack of productivity you are talking about may be from looking at this process of finishing the draft in too large a chunk. Often when people get stalled or stuck with a part of their project, I find that they are looking at the whole forest and freaking themselves out.
It sounds like you have already given yourself a break by pushing up the deadline to a month from now, rather than this upcoming Tuesday, which sounds like the right decision. Effective goals have several important elements; one acronym I learned from a teacher was to have SMART goals: ones that are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Relevant to your goal, and Time-limited. In changing your deadline, all you have done is adjust th time element of your goal. So now let's look at the other elements.
Specific, Action-oriented, and Relevant seem to be covered already as well by the nature of your goal: finish the novel. What we need to tackle is "Measurable."
Since your goal is to finish about thirty pages in about thirty days, my thought would be to try for a page a day. Along with that set-up, I would try to focus on just that page while writing. It is really easy to get pulled into "I'm almost done- hurry up!" thinking when getting near the end.
However, along with the page-a-day idea, I think it is also important to address what concerns and fears may be coming up as a result of finishing a draft and moving on to revision. Revision can be scary, because it is at this point that a book gets assessed and all the hard work you have put in gets looked at under your own microscope. I would acknowledge any fears you are having- maybe let yourself make a list about everything you are afraid of when coming to the end of the book- that you won't be happy with it, that you'll have to ax half of it and go in a new direction, etc etc. Getting these things down on paper may break that lack of productivity you are describing, because a general sense of doom is much harder to work with than specific fears all listed out.
Finally, I would try to plan for a little break after you finish the draft. I would try telling yourself, "I don't have to start revision the second the draft is done." Plan on taking a week or two off after finishing and be certain to come up with a fun reward for finishing the draft. Focus on that, not the hard slogging of revision ahead.
The image I get of this process reminds me of an image I once read, which stated that writing a book is like driving a car at night: you only get to see as far as the headlights illuminate, and then as you move, the light moves and you work your way to the end. I would resist the urge to try to use hi-beams now and see all the way to the end. In fact, it might be easier to get out of the car and walk down the path with a flashlight. Making things smaller and slower now will be less scary. If need be, refer to the "just keep swimming" video clip in a post a few days ago. You might try substituting "just keep typing" as your own lyrics. And remember: this is your first draft. That is the hardest one. It is ok to change anything you write now, so don't think of it as being carved in stone. All you have to have now is a draft.
Plus: an added bonus for timing is National Novel Month starting this Saturday, November 1st. Even though you won't be writing 50,000 words, I certainly encourage you to sign up simply to get the silly pep-talk e-mails. I have gotten a lot out of them in the past, and at the very least they might make you laugh a bit during this process.
Good luck! Please keep us posted on the progress and if you want someone to read this draft when it is finished, I would be very excited to see it.
You can do it! Thanks so much for your question.