End the Slog: How to Write, Finish, and Have Fun Doing It

So you’ve written 500 pages of your novel. Problem: you need a hundred more before you finish. And it’s really wearing on you.

I’ve been there, you’ve been there, and what I once thought was just a by-product of my overactive, antsy lack of discipline could be something totally different, something with nothing to do with my immaturity. Why is it that on a project I’ve had peaks and valleys of excitement and determination to complete, I seem to hit my lowest valley so close to the end?

Well, there could be many reasons. Sheer tiredness. Encroaching desire to work on newer, shinier projects. But also, spending so much time with the story can give me a certain numbness to the plot of a story I thought I enjoyed—like how staring too long at the sun gives you sunspots.

This last symptom is what I’m going to address in this post. And while one obvious, sound piece of advice you’re likely to have heard before is to step away from your work, giving yourself time to reevaluate and maybe get hyped about it again, I’d like to add to that idea storehouse.

To that end, I have two tips: keep the promise and follow the fun.

Keep the Promise

My current writing project is tantalizingly close to completion! Of its first draft, anyway. I’ve been going from loosey-goosey chapter-by-chapter outlines to the more solid draft writing for a while. And things were going reasonably well! Until I put my characters in their last battles to conquer and…began to feel that I’d lost the thread.

At first, I was just confused. Why wasn’t this stuff working? I’d done a bit more planning than usual for these final scenes, mainly to ensure that the way these action-fantasy characters battled monsters had some internal logic. Sure, I’d outlined and that’s a little contrary to my natural writing inclination, but the outline itself was reassuring.

But…it turns out my outline was flawed. Not because it was an outline, and not even because I’m not inclined to outline. It was because I haven’t been keeping the promise of what my story is fundamentally about.

I looked to my past for answers—my past mistakes.

Before I was working on a silly story about a catgirl, I was working on a silly story about a maid. It’s a silly story with a grave weakness: it only partway measures up to its promise. For one thing, you know how this blurb says the deuteragonist is a prince who “must bluff or die”? It turned out that several readers had come into the story expecting more political intrigue than I was prepared to give.

Not only that, but the climax takes another promise-breaking turn. This is a LitRPG action novel, so it’s going to have a lot of action, right? Its biggest climaxes and coolest setpieces will probably be devoted to cool, well-orchestrated battles? And since it’s also partly a thriller, there will be lots of clear dramatic stakes to everything?

No! Instead, as the story progresses, more and more of the conflicts are esoteric and their endings are vague and open-ended. In writing The Maid Got My System, I relied on tropes I had read recently and had liked in other things. In this case, it was mysterious science fiction like Rendezvous with Rama, where something strange and otherworldly happens and it might eventually be devastating to humanity in, like, 500 years. So, very much not clear dramatic stakes.

One reader, in a positive response to the story, described it as “dreamlike.” At the time, I thought, “Wow, that must mean my story’s a total slam dunk!” But now I realize that maybe The Maid Got My System was not the right kind of story to be that dreamlike. To hit the niche and emotional beats it was trying to hit, it should have been more of an action-thriller story throughout, not just at the start.

Keeping the promise means answering the questions and expectations that the cover and beginning of the book present to the readers. And to you! The farther you get in writing your story, the more likely you are to lose sight of that original vision. Or, alternatively, the more likely you are to be less satisfied with that vision—in which case you need to change it, and with gleeful abandon!

It means:
  • Looking back at your old notes, your first chapters
  • Squinting at the new ones and asking yourself, What’s changed?
  • Asking yourself, Am I happy with this change? Why?
  • And if you have an intended audience that you’re aiming for, asking, Will my audience be happy with this?

If things really are out of joint, make a plan for how you’ll change things upon writing your next draft. Not this one…the next one! Unless the changes you’re considering are truly all-pervasive, I do not recommend rewriting your draft before you reach a conclusion! If you just write out the rest of the story with your future changes in mind and jotted down, that alone can give you the spark you need to pull through and survive to edit another day.

How I’ve applied this to my writing today:

It turns out that the final act of Catgirl System hasn’t really been keeping the promises I want it to keep! My biggest mistake was making the characters immaculately plan their moves for the final boss rush. At the time, my thinking was, “The readers are going to want them to plan this out. It’s the momentous final battle, after all!”

But then I stepped back. Since when was this particular story about “immaculate” plans? My protagonist always plans on the spot, and the excitement of the story is supposed to come from her imagination in the moment, not her foresight. Yes, I should have the characters prepare and prove they’re not dunderheads, but having them plan too well—and making that plan go oh-so-well even for a moment—kind of shot me in the foot.

Besides that, the story has a heavier focus on character interactions than on combat. Why not include more instances of the characters teaming up for combo moves—putting less focus on combat efficiency than fun factor in a way that suits the story?

Find the Fun

That only solved half of my problem. It reassured me that this final act can work and not be horribly boring, but it didn’t quite get me excited about returning to this task of writing. It seemed to me like I’d overplanned this last act, and when I looked back at my keyboard, my vision just filled with lousy sunspots.

I needed, of course, to rediscover some lost fun factor. So I looked back to the past to see what I typically love to write most.

The Maid Got My System has characters that I really enjoyed writing. As a matter of fact, if I don’t think the characters are interesting, amusing, or at least adequate vessels for weird corny jokes, I have a difficult time writing at all. I love writing comedic banter, and even when it ends up in books that are fundamentally unpopular, I like them, and characters I find neat/fun/funny are what carry me through.

Therefore, playing with characters is my major fun factor. So find your own fun factor!

Okay, maybe the term “fun” is inappropriate for many, many types of fiction. You may want to rename it your “craft factor” and fancy yourself a craftsperson in a workshop of words, devoting careful and caring attention to your work. Maybe it’s the oil in your engine and you’re pouring in the ideas and motifs that get your brain working, and excited, when times are tough.

Rediscover that craft, or that fun, and you may rediscover your confidence. You’ll be more convinced that this writing is worth doing—and even if it’s only worthwhile for one person, worth is worth.

My Writing Update, Where I Of Course PERFECTLY Follow My Own Advice

Okay, so recently, I vowed to make biweekly updates about how my writing of Catgirl System has been going. It should be going great, right!?

Uh, I wish. While I was untangling the hurdle that inspired this article, a family emergency sprung up and I’m in the long process of untangling that. Here’s my progress bar:

Book 1 progress: 1st draft 100% solid draft 100%, final draft 0%
Book 2 progress: 1st draft 100%, solid draft 20%, final draft 0%
Book 3 progress: 1st draft 100%, solid draft 0%, final draft 0%
Book 4 progress: 1st draft 65%, solid draft 0%, final draft 0%

If it looks like I made a glob of progress since this same time two weeks ago, ha ha don’t worry, that was just me underestimating how much I’d done last time, because I’ve stalled again!

I’m unfortunately not touching the story again until I’m convinced I can keep up with prior commitments (including promises to myself that I would post more consistently around here) and, critically, work my day job.

Well…okay, yeah, it would be smart if I at least devoted five minutes to fiction writing per day. Five dinky minutes! I can do that, and not doing it in hectic times has gotten me in hot water before.

Thanks for reminding me of my own writing tips, Me!

Plus, if I found time to make this wacky strange Catgirl-related image, maybe I can do anything in life:


Thank you for reading, and Patrons, thank you for Patreonning.

For more about writing process goof-ups, try this piece about writing for its own sake. For some remarkably bad writing, here’s my review of the ambitious robot battle manga Ultimo. And if you now hate writing and just wanna read about video games, hey, lately I battled through some early Pokemon. Now, that shit is goofy.

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