That end-of-novel panic August 27, 2008Posted by LHK in writing craft.
So I’m working on the last two chapters of the current draft of my novel, which, for convenience’s sake, I call Draft 6.75. This time last year, I was at this same point in a previous draft — on the no-one-understands-this-but-me literary timeline, it was in the humid days between celebrating my main character’s birthday (August 22. When you’ve “known” your main character for seventeen years, it is only appropriate to celebrate his birthday) and the Decatur Book Festival. I had two chapters to go. I was exhausted. I loved my story but couldn’t wait to put it to rest. I couldn’t pick up a novel or watch a movie without guilt about putting off the inevitable ending of the manuscript. I was listening to the New Pornographers’ Challengers with the same pathological fervor that lately comes over me every time I put on the Company original cast album. In short, I was — and am — insufferable. More than usual, that is.
The thing about endings, and writing them, is that they can get you (read: me) all psychologically mixed up. Sometime last week, I was having a minor freakout about where the last three chapters were going to go, and how I was going to manage wrapping up all of my various dangling plot threads. For a while, I had myself convinced that this was a bout of perfectionist’s anxiety — as in, I was going to find all sorts of little things wrong with the ending so as to put off finishing the manuscript and sending it out. But was that it? After some meditation on this (read: a glass of wine and some room pacing), I realized that I was being far too kind to myself about the root of this problem. No, the root was alllll the way back in Chapter 7, which has been a problematic chapter for as long as I’ve been working on draft 6.75. A too-coincidental plot point back in Chapter 7 was making Chapters 17, 18, and 19 difficult to write.
I continued with Chapters 17 and 18 as though I’d already written out Chapter 7’s aggravating plot point. One more thing to add to the growing revision list. That’s okay; I like revision. But in this draft writing phase, it’s difficult to spend late night after late night pushing my characters into frightening emotional territory, and not having a strong enough outline (yes, even after so many drafts) to know how they’re going to make it to the other side.
One good thing, though, was discovering just how much progress I’ve made lately. I thought about my research trip / solo writing retreat to Rutherford County, North Carolina last month, and scrolled back to what I’d written back at that vintage-1835 bed and breakfast. I was mostly working on Chapter 11 then, which was nearly 100 pages ago. 100 pages in a month! I can definitely deal with that.
Tomorrow I’ll post a snapshot of the Plotting Board of DOOM, and if I get a chance I’ll say a bit about that most wondrous of events for all weird quiet girls — the Decatur Book Festival.