If you’ve made it to the third act of your manuscript, first of all, you are absolutely killing it. As a society, I think we drastically undersell how hard it is to write a literal whole book. Do you know how long it takes to write just fifty thousand words, let alone eighty or ninety thousand?
I know in the movies the author just locks themself away in a remote cabin and creates an instant masterpiece. The rest of us have like…lives, and people who would like to see us now and then. And we’re just trying to fit those pages in whenever humanly possible.
So let’s not underestimate the work you’ve already done to get this far.
Equally let’s not underestimate the added challenge of the home stretch. For a lot of writers, these last few chapters can be some of the hardest to write, because this is where the marathon starts to burn a bit. You’re tired, you’ve been at it forever, you just want to be done already. But the race isn’t over and you know you’ll kick yourself if you tap out now.
As a former distance runner and lifelong writer, I’m no stranger to those final miles. So here are a few of my best tips for staying the proverbial course.
I find that whenever I’m losing interest in my manuscript or when the writing starts to feel forced, I’ve probably lost sight of my story’s North Star.
Your North Star (also known as your core questions, or driving themes, or golden thread) is the central idea around which the entire piece revolves. It’s the question or theme you can continue to come back to whenever you get lost.
For example, let’s say the North Star in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the question “What are the consequences of ambition?” Everything in the story shoots off from that main theme, resulting in a rooted, clear, and powerful story about mankind’s obsession with power.
If you’re not sure what the North Star of your own story is, now’s an excellent time to establish that driving theme.
If you can name in just a couple of sentences what the story is at its very core, then all the last few chapters need to do for you is drive those themes home.
In an actual footrace, most of your cheering squad is going to be at the end of the course, pumping you up when you’re most tired.
In your writing, who and what makes up your cheering squad? Is it certain people? (Your critique partner? Your aggressively supportive friend? Your editor or book coach?) Or is it made up of internal tools like self-affirmations, a rewards system, or a routine?
Whatever works for you, now’s the time to lean into those motivational tools. If you thrive off external motivation, ask your cheerleaders to hold you accountable to your goals. Let them know you’re getting tired. Implement a standing “writing date” with another author. If you do well with a rewards system, have a friend hold on to a secret gift that you get to open when you’re finished with the book. (Curiosity is a powerful motivator. 👀)
Some people need more internal motivation. If that’s you, try scheduling extra personal time into your life, so you can prioritize the things that fill up your energy reserves, whether that’s extra mindfulness, long walks, or the occasional weekend writing retreat. If your time is limited, maybe you try creating a trail of inspirational sticky notes around the house, or just setting a good old fashioned deadline.
If you gotta go the deadline route, keep a few things in mind:
What date do you think you can actually get your draft done by, taking into account all of the inevitable distractions and emergencies. Once you pick that date, add a small SHTF (shit hit the fan) buffer. Now write that date down, share it with an accountability partner, and create a realistic writing schedule to help you meet that goal.
A finished draft should not come at the expense of your physical or mental health, or the health of anyone you’re responsible for. Keep your goals manageable and be kind to yourself as you do the extremely difficult and impressive work of writing a whole-ass novel.
If life happens, or if your story changes in some way and you just need more time, you have not failed. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’re doing your best under the circumstances, and *bippidy-boppidy-boop* adjust your timeline. Problem solved. Your story is unfathomably valuable and I will scream that from the rooftops, but let’s not forget it’s also just a manuscript. And the world won’t stop if you need an extra month or two.
Every writer will work differently, so decide what motivational tools work for you specifically, and ride that cheering squad to the finish line.
As a professional editor, I absolutely direct this at myself. I am constantly tempted to edit the pages I’ve already written when all I really want to do is finish the draft.
But if your goal is to just make it to the end, to do the thing, then, as much as it pains me to say, this is not the time for revisions. *cue single tear*
To that end, this is not a practice in perfection.
There are absolutely going to be things you already know you want to change. So this part of the process is a powerful exercise in my favorite creative writing philosophy, anti-perfection. What can you do to not just accept the imperfections in your manuscript, but also radically celebrate them?
What would it feel like to approach the process of writing your first draft as a sort of political demonstration against the limitations of perfectionism? What would it feel like to throw the proverbial paint at the wall and see what you can create when you’re not actually trying to make it good?
You can use all the motivational tools on the planet, set all the deadlines, and reach out to every accountability partner in your contacts. But none of this will mean anything if you’re really just burnt out. So before you make the big push, check in with your body first and ask yourself, Do I just need a break?
Humans are not machines, and creative writing is not designed for capitalist production models. Creators need the freedom to flow through states of output and input — producing and receiving.
So ask yourself, have you been solely producing, or have you been incorporating intentional, extended writing breaks into your creative process (I’m talking weeks at least), where you put the work down and receive your world? Sometimes we just need to move temporarily out of production mode, in order to recharge our batteries and make room for more ideas.
As you continue with your story, I’ll leave you with these final words. Writing a novel is hard. Period. It takes time, and focus, and emotional output. But it can also be beautiful. Otherwise why would we do it? It can feel like play. Like connection. Like release.
What would it feel like to shift your focus onto the things that made you fall in love with writing in the first place, instead of on what makes it hard? What if we didn’t actually have to white-knuckle our way through the rest of the manuscript? What if motivation could feel gentle and kind?
What, then, would it feel like to write those final chapters?
With that, may your writing be full of joy, curiosity, and patience.
I'm a fiction book editor and writing coach, specializing in anti-perfectionist writing habits for indie authors.
In this house, we leave perfection at the door and write with curiosity, clarity, and joy.
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