Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Home Stretch

So I'm entering the last month on my WIP. First drafting, deadline wire up ahead. 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 how I'll 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).

Here's why I wouldn't: to be in this battle is to be alive. As Jack London once said, "I'd rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. 
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom 
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. 
The function of man is to live, not to exist."

Writing well is about being alive, about being out on the wire over Niagara Falls, about jumping on the back of Bucephalus and grabbing some mane. Ray Bradbury once described his writing day as getting up each morning and exploding, then spending the rest of the day putting the pieces together.

It's about running a race ahead of a mob of angry, torch bearing townsfolk. It's about skiing down a mountain ahead of an avalanche.

It's about being open to all the fantastic things you can't control, then finding ways to form a pleasing shape out of them.

Being alive, truly alive, means a degree of uncertainty. It means risk. If there's no risk, there's not going to be any lasting reward. If your reach does not exceed your grasp, you'll just keep grabbing the same old leaves.

This is nowhere more pronounced than when I'm heading home on a novel. Now is that time. I'm shouting like Slim Pickens riding the atomic bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove.

When I am at the keys and moving the fingers, I am kicking all doubts into the pit. "This is Sparta!"

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


  1. First draft, exhilarated. Last draft, exhausted. With plenty of Starbucks between.

    Looking forward to what you produce with great anticipation,Jim. Just be careful with that caffeine.

  2. I have the experience of only one completed manuscript so far, but the feeling was definitely EUREKA! Like standing on top of the highest mountain and seeing all the other smaller mountain ranges around me.

  3. "What am I going to do now? I have to edit it, am I capable of editing it and really doing something with it? What if I screw up my painfully birthed baby?"

    Yep, that's what I'm thinking. I've done short work, but with two novels completed its time to work on the rewrites and the editing, and it seems like a more insurmountable mountain that the initial writing.

  4. First draft - completely insecure but plowing straight ahead anyway

    I love this post!

  5. Hurry Jim. Lives will be saved and the Earth will remain on its axis through 2013 only if you make your deadline.

  6. The real question, John, is will Paris Hilton be freed? I must write...

  7. Mark, I can fool myself with decaf...anything to keep writing.

  8. BK & Kid...I've been there. Both places.

  9. I think The Home Stretch is one of my favorite places to be: The hard stuff behind you, the exhilaration of everything coming together, the light at the end of the tunnel growing brighter every minute. I'm envious.

  10. ...about jumping on the back of Bucephalus and grabbing some mane.

    Jim, I'm thrilled that you know of Bucephalus. I don't think a lot of folks remember Alexander the Great's horse. I did a report on him in junior high and still remember.

    Like Bucephalus, I must be cautious not to shy away and be frightened of my own shadow when coming down the home stretch.

  11. I'm in the closing stages of my web serial and I actually feel sad - I've enjoyed building this world, and watching these characters grow, and part of me is thinking "Thank GOD now I can go and do something new", the other part of me is thinking "I'm not ready to leave them yet". Sadness and relief, all rolled into one!

  12. This is very timely for me, and means a lot. Thank you.

  13. I'm always in a dive-and-strafe mode at the end--cruising over the manuscript, endlessly looking for little nits to fix. Fixing them. Finding more. Fixing those.

  14. Katie, thanks for the kind word. Keep writing.

    Dina, the light at the end of the tunnel, is it an oncoming train? No, sunshine. You're right.

    Jillian, funny how those Jr. High reports stay with us. I've been listening to a Teaching Company series on the lessons of history, and just covered Alexander.

    Rachel, been there.

    Icy, you hit on the mindset. It's ever shifting waves.

    Kathryn, that's what it's like sometimes. Finding leaks, patching them, finding others. I try to finish before doing to much of that.

  15. I just finished my first draft at 433 pages so I know how you feel. I also blogged about the Race to the Finish on my personal blog ( we are eager to finish, we should not hurry things along to make sure we cover all the bases. Next up are revisions, but I have to put the book aside for a couple of weeks to get a fresh view.

  16. With four completions under my belt I felt more excited each time. Almost like when my kids were born...almost. It is as if I were creating life from nothing.

    Once those (or any one of them) are sold I imagine the exhilaration will return many fold. In the meantime I sit in the lab conjuring the next lives with which to toy.