Finishing What You’ve Started

My name is Nathan Barra and I suffer from writer’s ADD. I have left a long trail of projects started, and then cast aside for the lure of a shiny new idea. The problem is that I am not satisfied with being a hobbyist, but rather I aspire to be a professional. There isn’t a publishing house anywhere that will pay me, an unknown author, for the first third of a book. There a lot of well-known and well-established authors that wouldn’t be paid for a partial book either. As it turns out, I need to finish what I start in order to make my dream come true. For me, NaNoWriMo isn’t about starting something new. It’s about completing something that you’ve started.

At this point, all of y’all participating in NaNoWriMo should be about three quarters of the way done or 30,000 words. You’re in your final stretch. Now all you have to do is complete something.

Though many individuals use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to start a new project, I prefer to use NaNoWriMo as a challenge to either advance a current work in progress by 50,000 words or complete it. Last year I took this approach for the first time, and it resulted in the completion of my first novel. The thing is, I only ended up writing about 38,000 words. Technically, did I complete NaNoWriMo? No, but I did write more in the course of a month than I did in the 10 months previous.  More importantly, I finished my first book, and for me that accomplishment is enough.

So for those of y’all who are on track with your NaNoWriMo goals, I admire and respect your dedication and skill. For those a little (perhaps a lot) behind, is there any way you can complete your book? You might not make it to 50,000 words, but can you finish your story in 38,000 words? A novel might be out of your reach at this point, but what of a novella? How about 20,000 words? Can you do a short story?

I found that many NaNoWriMo participants lose sight of the bigger picture because they are so focused on the 50,000 word finish line. In the end, the 50,000 word mark is not as important as being able to finish the manuscript, polish it, and then send it out into the world. In the end, the project isn’t done until you’ve stopped working on the manuscript and it has started working for you.  Send it out into the world and then start working on the next project.


10 Responses

  1. Rebecca says:

    Agreed. I used my first ever NaNo in 2010 to complete my first full-length novel. I began with 30k, and used NaNo for the rest.

    That book is a mess, but I learned a lot from the process. Not to mention how thrilling it was to learn that I could actually finish writing an entire book!

    I am doing NaNo for the second time this year. I had an exploratory chapter written for this particular story at least two years ago, and I am doing NaNo to push myself into a regular writing career. The book will not be finished by 50k (I’m over 30k now), but NaNo was the jumpstart I needed.

    • Nathan Barra says:

      Time and time again, I heard the advice from more experienced writers that often the endings are the hardest parts of books because we get so little practice at them. Especially for writers with writer’s ADD, we’ve started a great number of projects. We could be strong at that aspect, but so rarely get to endings.

      I’m glad that NaNo is working out for you this year Rebecca. Have you considered racing yourself to the 50K word end? If you don’t finish by 01-Dec, how many days into December will it take? What other things have you found to be jump starts in the past?

      • Rebecca says:

        Endings may well be harder. I have several projects with first chapters, but only two–soon to be three–completed drafts of novels. I guess I will find out how hard it is!

        Oh, I will finish before December, but I can’t race myself with this book. The story is taking a lot more thought than my other books, so I am glad the bones of it have been growing decently. I will have a good deal to research and flesh out once I am done. I have about 7k to go, and I am satisified with that. I would like to get done before next Wednesday so I can take a break and prepare for Thanksgiving!

        I didn’t do NaNoWriMo the past couple of years because I won’t start it if I don’t have a plan to finish. This book is different than the ones I have written before, and since I outlined a few plot points before I started, I have places to write to.

        Hmm . . . jumpstarts. I can’t plot well in my head. That’s why I use major plot points, then write to each point. Let’s see . . .

        When I begin writing, I rarely know what words I am going to start with. I have to physically put my fingers on the keyboard, then it’s as if that action unlocks the right side of my brain, and I’m able to write. I shut off the logical part of my brain and just go with whatever comes. If something feels off as I’m writing, I delete that sentence or paragraph and start from that point, even while doing NaNo.

        I think a writer really needs to follow his/her intuition.

        Thanks for the discussion! Wow, I had a lot more to say than I thought. 😀

        • Nathan Barra says:

          No thank you Rebecca. I enjoy reaching out and talking to other writers. I’ve heard that there are others out here in West Texas, but I have yet to be able to find them. The whole point of this blog was to reach out and talk to people. I see myself as part discovery writer and part outliner. I wrote a blog post about how I do it at one point. I’ve never found pure pantsing to work for me, but I’m glad it does for you. Do you find yourself rewriting a lot? That was my major frustration and what eventually drove me to outlining

          I’m glad your book and trajectory is looking good! Best of luck with your writing and make sure to keep me up to date. I hope you come around here more often!

  2. Lauren Ritz says:

    A lot of my stories end as novellas. That’s OK. I do finish NaNo every year, but for me it’s more about writing straight through.

    • Nathan Barra says:

      Does this pattern shape how you plan your stories? Do you plot novels with contingencies for turning them into novellas? I understand why I value (and often envy) the ability to write a project straight through, but why do you value it? What importance does it have for you?

      • Lauren Ritz says:

        Your comment about writers ADD made me laugh because it’s so true.

        If I don’t write straight through nothing gets finished. If I allow myself to deviate to the interesting scenes, or plan ahead, I end up with a lot of little snippets with a vague connecting theme. I’m a 100% pantser (i.e., discovery writer) so I start a project with absolutely no idea where it’s going and let the story guide me.

        I can’t jump ahead, or think about my next book, or allow myself to move on because I get bored. NaNo taught me to write straight through (Here’s my blog post on the topic– or I’d still be writing snippets and hoping that someday I’d finish something.

        • Rebecca says:

          I am mostly a discovery writer, too. I plan major plot points, so I have somewhere to go (and that can change if needed), but I can’t figure the story out unless my fingers are typing as I think.

        • Nathan Barra says:

          I’m glad you got so much out of NaNo Lauren. Learning to finish stuff was really hard for me too. Pantsing never really worked out for me, but rather, I have a sort of “in between” method that I use. See my comment train with Rebecca for a link. I need to know at least where I’m going so I can steer the narrative boat in that direction. It’s kinda like navigating by the stars. What is pantsing like to you? I’ve really enjoyed our conversation Lauren. Hope to see you around here more often.

          • Lauren Ritz says:

            Most people are “in between.” I’m one of the few who is a pure discovery writer. Most people have at least a vague idea of where they’re going before they start a new project. I just can’t write that way.

            That blog post was quite interesting. Thinking about it I follow a similar path, but with the organizer and the creator working together or playing leap-frog past each other as I move forward through the story. I never know what’s going to happen next, but both halves of my brain are continuously looking forward to find the next turn in the road.

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