Every high school football game was the same. We’d come out of the gate playing hard, trying to set the tone in the first quarter. By the end of the first half we were spent, having gave all we had to the game. At half-time, we’d meet in the end zone where the Junior Varsity team would bring us water, and coach would yell at us about what needed to change in the second half. When the band finished their show, we would storm the field with renewed energy, but the burst was momentary. By the end of the third quarter we were tired, sore, and ready for the game to end, so when the whistle blew, we thrust our hands in the air, four fingers extended, declaring there was one more quarter to go.
Seeing a field filled with fingers in the air renewed our strength. It was more than a reminder that the game wasn’t over. It was a unified declaration that not only were we going to continue to fight, but that we were facing the final leg of our ordeal with courage and resolve. As we changed sides of the field, my teammates and I would make silent eye contact, united in our commitment to finish the game like the champions we knew we were.
NaNoWriMo was tough for me this year. Work demanded more focus than I thought it would. Two weeks into the month, I came down with a cold, which made late night writing difficult. And in my initial planning, I didn’t take into account the amount of family activity there would be. With two days left I’m only at 35,933 words, 17 out of 25 chapters complete.
It would be easy to give up now, to say, “Next year. I’ll try again next year,” to applaud my effort and award myself a well-deserved break, to promise myself that, “I will pick the book back up after the new year.” But I realize this moment is not the end of my challenge, it is the beginning of the fourth quarter. Here are four things I’ll be doing to help ensure I finish my book. These are my figurative four fingers in the air.
1) Make a new plan.
Like a sailor whose been thrown off course in a storm, I’m going to take a moment to re-chart my work. What’s left? I’ve laid out the steps to my end goal. There are eight more chapters to go, after which I know I will need to do a full edit of the whole manuscript.
There were nights in which I feel asleep writing. The end of those chapters are stream-of-consciousness nonsense that read more like the outline in my head than actual prose. They need to be completely rewritten.
After my first full edit, I’ll send the document to ten test readers. (More on that in a moment.)
Once I have notes from test readers back, there I will give it another full edit. At that point, my fourth quarter will be over, and I will know if the book is worthy of being published.
2) Setting a new goal.
You know that the NaNoWriMo thing is complete make believe, right?
The only reason finishing your novel in November matters is because you told yourself it matters. So, tell yourself something else now. I’m telling myself the rough draft needs to be finished by December 12th. (This matches the pace I’m currently writing at without giving me room to slack off.) I want my first full edit done and the document to test readers by January 23rd. After which, I’ll need to discuss realistic time lines with my test readers before I set more goals.
3) Start Lining Up Test Readers
You ever tell a joke you think is hilarious, but no body laughs? Happens to me all the time. I don’t want my novel to a giant joke only I find funny. That’s why test readers are a key part of the process. I write a monthly newsletter to for people interested in following my work (subscribe here). Before I finish the rough draft, I’ll start asking if any of them would be willing to serve as test readers.
My test readers will get a full manuscript in mail. It will have feedback pages strategically inserted throughout, and a stamped and addressed envelope they can use to mail the finished work back to me. I’m going to start lining them up before the rough draft is done because, for me, deadlines become more intense when someone is waiting on me.
4) Continuing to write every day.
The best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it gets you writing. Writing every day is a fantastic habit, especially for writers. If you started it over NaNoWriMo, don’t stop now. Keep going. Like a wise old man on top of a mountain once said, “Writers write stuff.”
Maybe you are like me and you haven’t finished your book. Or maybe you did hit the 50,000 word mark, but the story isn’t done. Or maybe the story is done, but you know there is editing ahead. Now is not the time to rest. The game isn’t over. Raise those four fingers high in the air and declare to the world that you will finish your art like the champion you know you are.