Monday, August 30, 2010

The Home Stretch in Writing

Last week James Scott Bell started a discussion on an author's e-mail loop as he spoke about finishing his current manuscript:

So I'm entering the last month on my WIP. I find this horserace to be a time of great exhilaration, desperation, excitement, consternation and frequent trips to Starbucks.

Even though I've done this dozens of times, it never feels like, "Hey, I've got this so nailed. No problem!"

I'm looking at all the story threads, balls in the air, knowing the ending I'm heading for but wondering if I'll truly get there. In my head, I know I will, because I always do, somehow.

But in the heat of battle, writing each day, I feel like a Spartan trying to hold off Xerxes at Thermopylae. And I suppose I wouldn't have it any other way (especially if I was ripped like Gerard Butler).

What about you? How do you usually feel on the home stretch of a novel?

Jim's e-mail spurred some interesting replies (all e-mails run here with permission):

Exactly the same way! Like I'm climbing Mt Everest and I'm never going to make it. But I LOVE the energy of that final month! -- Colleen Coble

Panic-stricken. Sure I can never do this again, even after 40-some books, and convinced that for the first time ever, I'm not going to meet my deadline. That feeling should get better with time, experience, and age, but instead it gets worse, because I think every ms. has to be better than the one before. -- Marta Perry

I love the home stretch. My ending scene is in sight and the route there seems clear and close enough to touch. Sure, there are plates spinning in the air, but I figure I can tie up anything I miss during re-writes. Give me the end over the middle any day! -- Denise Hunter

Sick to my stomach, irritable, frustrated. The cats hide. -- Cheryl Hodde (of Hannah Alexander)

To me, the first draft home stretch is as agonizing as the beginning or middle of the first draft. It's that last draft before sending it off that gets my endorphins firing. -- Terri Blackstock

I feel the same way! Will I tie it all up. Did I keep the pace and tension taunt? Is the dialog purposeful with meaning? Do I like it just because it's me and I want it to be done? Or is it good? Really? It's exhausting but I LOVE when I get to the end. Best feeling in the world. I love when I'm rewriting and threads become more clear, motivation and hooks start to materialize in a more definitive way. We have the best job in the world! -- Rachel Hauck

As for me--like Denise, I love the home stretch. It's so much easier than the beginning or middle. I know my characters much better by then, and I know exactly where I'm going and how I'm going to get there. The writing is faster as a result.

Terri mentioned a first draft vs. the last draft, which she sends off to the editor. I'm different from most novelists in that my first draft is what I send off to the editor. Each day I write the pages the way I want them. I may write less pages a day than others this way, but when I'm done with the book--I'm done with the book. I will go over it and edit--usually that means tightening the writing  some. But I'm not rewriting scenes, or deleting or adding to them. It's simply a quick sentence-to-sentence edit. So when I'm on the home stretch, it's truly the ending for me. (Until the editor's macro letter and the rewrite, that is.)

So what about the rest of you? What's the home stretch like?


Nicole said...

Sometimes surprising. Not what I intended. Or coming quicker than my hands can type. The characters show off or insert their independence or quickly tie up the story in a way I didn't see coming. It's a good thing but sometimes an unknown. When it's known, it usually comes in a hurry.

And I love it. And I hate it. And I know it's good, and I know it stinks. Such a life.

Randy Ingermanson said...

I'm with you, Brandilyn. The first draft is pretty much the last draft, although I do a couple of days of spitting and polishing before I send it in. This might have something to do with the fact that I usually start writing the first draft with just enough time to get it done before deadline. So when people talk about "the last 30 days before the deadline" I'm thinking, "Um, that's not the home-stretch, that's pretty much the entire time it takes to write the stinking book."

Ralene said...

I get terrified. The homestretch is when my doubts and insecurities start to get to me. Even though I know that I can fix anything in edits, I still get that terror that this story is going to be just awful. :)

Lynnette Bonner said...

I'm currently in that last 30 day homestretch. This is the first novel I've written under deadline - the first two I finished before I sold them. It is scary. I'm hoping I get it finished in time. (Well, it will be finished. What I should say is, I'm hoping I get it finished to my satisfaction, in time.)

Glad to know there are other authors out there who have the same experiences.

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