I presume you have already designated a writing space for yourself (maybe a studio, maybe an empty closet beneath a dangling light bulb. I've had both.). You have a specific writing routine (weekend mornings, a few hours before bed on the weeknights, or according to the moon cycles). You also have a writing project you care deeply about, have wrestled with, rewritten a few times and threatened to burn at least once.
- Print out an entire copy of the work thus far and read it through without using a pencil (but have one nearby). If you can read with the eyes of your ideal reader, areas that need more explanation or tightening will strike you as obvious. On a separate sheet write the page numbers of areas you'd like to return to, but keep reading until you reach the end of your unfinished work. When you reach the last page, once again adopt the attitude of your ideal reader, and quickly write a brief description of what needs to happen in order to approach the end. Then, start writing it.
- Slow down and engage more deeply with your material. Bring your talent, not your exhaustion, into the very last pages, paragraphs and sentences. Slowing down helps make reaching the end a bit more enjoyable, even intoxicating. It reminds me of why I started the project in the first place. Sometimes it even reminds me of why I write.
- After you have a healthy version of the end, revise, and if necessary, cut. It will make the work stronger. Be honest with yourself about what should go, what might belong in another writing project, and what could be said more clearly. I have rewritten certain passages dozens of times, and while sometimes maddening, the act of doing so does pay off.
- Know that finishing happens in phases. You might finalize your scene sequences first and then start again at the top for final edits on your point of view character or narrative voice. Each layer deserves as much focus as you can spare. Consider printing out a copy each time you begin to edit a new layer, and write the changes in by hand.
- Set deadlines and adjust them as you go. The deadlines are meant to help maintain momentum, not to add pressure, although setting a deadline so that the work might be finished this week nicely accomplishes both ends.
- Resist the urge to sprint, blow over the narrative boundaries you set up for yourself, or force an ending too quickly. Some of the most powerful endings are inconclusive or uncomfortable while still maintaining -and even winning--the trust of the reader. Be comfortable with and accept how you envision the natural ending to your work.
- If you start to falter on the final frontier (the last third, the last chapter, the last few pages) bring to mind the whole point of the project. Do you hope to make a political or social statement? To touch readers hearts? To make yourself feel better? To make friends and money? Find the purpose, and be grateful you have that purpose. The shift away from a blank mind towards a source of enthusiasm creates a new environment for taking chances.
- When you write the last words, praise your hard work. Hit "save" one more time even if you've been doing so every fifteen minutes. Then go for a run, or go out to dinner, or go to bed. Give it some time. When you return to spell check, regulate use of italics and font size, ask yourself one more time if it really feels done. Then print and read it cover to cover once again, with a pencil nearby.
Suzanne Clores is the author of Memoirs of A Spiritual Outsider (Conari, 2000, Kindle 2010). Her work has aired on Chicago Public Radio and appeared in the Huffington Post, Next Avenue, and The Nervous Breakdown. She's at work on a new book about telepathic and other extraordinary mental experiences entitled Invisible.
This article originally appeared on the author's website. Reprinted with permission.