4.22.2006

The End of the Road...white light? oncoming train light? s'light of hand?


Hello Ms. Snark,

I think your blog is one of the best -- it is informative and humorous.

I would like to ask you a question : I am writing a novel and I'm very close to finishing it---only 20 pages remaining out of a total of 300 pages or so. And suddenly, I discover to my horror that I'm beset with depressing thoughts-- that it's been a completely futile exercise, that it's going to be a trash book, and so on. I am surprised by the onslaught of such negative thoughts, since I have been happily writing for the last few months with a lot of optimism. Is this `End-of-the-road trauma' common at all? Or am I being a nitwit?



Well, this isn't a nitwit question, you'll have to try again for that category next week.

I have no idea if this is common. I know it's very hard to finish a novel and that's one of the reasons I ONLY look at finished work from novelists (rare exception: previously published authors).

However, there's a devotion of snarklings who read this blog and also write novels. I bet they'll know!

What say you, Snarklings?

55 comments:

Diana Pharaoh Francis said...

Sure it's normal. You're about to have to leave off hanging out with people you've been with a long time, and you're going to have start *gasp* something NEW. That can be a really hard thing to get your mind around. You've spent so much time and energy in this book, it's hard to think about doing it all over again with another. But . . . has to be done. Little birds must get kicked from the nest. Finish, start another, and you'll find yourself happily enmeshed.

domynoe said...

I've always had . . . less than stellar thoughts about my writing. But it took me so long to figure out how I need to write, that finally getting that rough draft finished was a relief.

I'll let you know more when I've finally finished the revisions, but I don't expect it to be much different. My first novel has been a nightmare of learning experiences, for one. Being able to say it's done will be a very good thing. Secondly, I'm always working on more than one project, so novel 1 will finish and I'll be able to move on, hopefully without too much angst. ;)

S. W. Vaughn said...

You are not alone! It's all too common -- the good ol' end-of-the-book blues. Complete with nagging questions like: Why did I waste my time writing this? What if no one likes it? What if I can't write another book? NOW what am I going to do??!

Just another fun factor of the writing life. :-)

Jan Darby said...

It's very common. I call it Phinishing Phobia, which encompasses the myriad of fears that writers have and that tend to come to the surface as we face the end of the book and are worrying about, inter alia, a) not being able to wrap up all the loose ends, b) not having done justice to the brilliant story/character ideas we originally had, c) the risk that we'll send it out to an agent or editor and it'll be rejected, since you can't get rejected if you don't finish the manuscript.

Jen said...

It's common for me. I have moments when I read what I've written and hover over the delete button.
Luckily the thought passes. A really good critique partner is a good resource to get through this.

Poohba said...

I didn't have that feeling when doing my first draft, but I started getting it during my second or third revision. There are definitely days when I begin wondering why I've wasted so much of my life on this book that isn't any good.

I've gotten some excellent comments from the few critique groups I've shown it to. Unfortunately, having the flaws (most of which I'm well aware of) pointed out usually makes me feel like I'm never going to get it to the point where it will be sale-able.

But, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. Lots of people start novels; few people finish them. And one of my creative writing teachers pointed out once that there is no such thing as "the perfect novel." There's only some who come closer than others.

Anonymous said...

I think this is very common... at least, I know I suffer from it. It's partly exhaustion, and partly caused by thinking back over all those words, and seeing only their superficial nature. Cowboy in love? how clich├ęd is that! Spaceships? Been done to death! It's like reading your sweated-over synopsis - makes you want to rip the thing up there and then. But actually, you could say those kinds of depressing things about any book, however wonderful and/or lucrative. It's the writing - your writing - that makes it worth reading.

The first draft is only the first step, and you can't know what you've got on your hands till it's finished. The only cure I know is to close your ears to your inner critic, whose job it is to stop you writing, finish the damn thing, and then put it away for a while. Which is probably what you should do for all sorts of other reasons too. I can almost guarantee that when you get it out again (unless it's the same day as something ego-battering happening in your love or work life, in which case leave it under the bed till you're feeling whole again) you'll be pleasantly suprised by how good it it, and find your fingers itching to revise the bits that don't work so well.

Jan Conwell said...

I've just finished my second novel...so my experience is limited, dear writer, when I say: You are SO lucky! By that I mean lucky to have gotten all the way to the last twenty pages before the gremlins of self-doubt sink their fangs into your brain.

You'll be fine. Finish the book, then start another one.

December Quinn said...

Totally common.

lorra laven said...

When you finish a novel, there's a lot of letting go that has to be done, especially if the topic is a personal one.

However, I can assure you, that after you pen the last word, you are a long, long way from that white light at the and of the tunnel. And by the time you finish what seems like the one-millionth rewrite, you'll be ecstatic, not depressed.

Also, everyone's experience at trying to become a published writer is different. You have to believe in yourself, believe in your project and listen very carefully when an agent or reader gives you constructive criticism.

Be patient - start outlining and working on your next book between rewriting this one (put the first one away for a little while between rewrites) - and you'll have two directions in which to focus your hopes.

Try to ignore all the depressing things you read on the internet - you're different. And Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

In my (somewhat limited) experience, the end-of-the-road depression is pretty normal. I just finished writing a novel about three weeks ago and had a similar experience. Even now, "Hey, I wrote a novel!" is usually followed by, "Yeah, but it probably sucks." Sadness ensues.

Here's my advice: whenever the depressing thoughts come up, just remind yourself that God invented rewrites for a reason and keep going. When you finish, be damn proud of yourself. Then? Set aside the book for a while. You'll know when you're ready to go back to it for rewrites, and when you do, I'm almost positive you'll discover that what you've written isn't nearly as awful as you've convinced yourself. You'll be eager all over again to throw yourself back into it.

A little depression is normal. You just have to let yourself roll with it, and don't let it keep you from finishing.

Anonymous said...

The only thing strange about your experience, in my opinion, is that it's taken you this long to feel that crushing sense of doubt. Consider yourself lucky, and finish the novel.

Christa M. Miller said...

I had this happen too. It's completely normal to feel abject fear toward the end of something. My husband, a high school teacher, told me a lot of seniors are actually sabotaging their graduations by failing their courses. Pregnant moms in their 8th month freak out about everything from labor & delivery to whether they will love the new baby enough. People leaving old jobs worry that they will be complete failures in the new one.

It's human, and you're not a nitwit. :) Keep plugging and remember what a HUGE deal it is to have a finished novel on your hands - I read somewhere that most would-be novelists never get past 50 pages!

lucy said...

Not to worry...you'll look back on this depressing time with nostalgia for your giddy optimism in comparison to how you'll feel when those rejections start pouring in!

All right, all right, I'm kidding. You're just feeling a bit let down after all that creative excitement. You were running with it and now the end is near and you are filled with doubt. Pay no attention to it. Even when you finish the book, it's not really finished. You have many many rewrites to look forward to.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, it's perfectly normal to oscillate between thinking you're a genius and thinking that you've just written a great big pile of poodle-doings.

Never let your self-doubt sucker you out of writing. A bad book can be overhauled and improved, a non-existent book can't be, and the process of writing made you a better writer. Your time was not wasted.

Bill Peschel said...

I've heard that it is common, even among writers who've published 20+ novels.

Anonymous said...

The "this is garbage" point varies by writer, but everyone I know experiences it. For me it's usually the 2/3s mark. I know others who get all the way up to 3/4s. Sometimes it's a sign of a sagging middle or a plot hole, and other times it's just cause you're getting tired of looking at the same damn story.

Keziah Hill said...

I'd say self doubt is common at any stage of the writing process. Mine happens about a third of the way through. Keep writing you're almost there.

Desperate Writer said...

Unfortunately, this writer is normal. Sorry. End of book letdown with a side of anxiety. Classic.

cmharris said...

Yes, this is perfectly normal. It's called sequelitis.

Cheryl Mills said...

The last twenty pages were the hardest for me. I've only written two novels, but the feeling was the same with both; hesitation to finish, and then upon finishing, a mixture of dread and jubilation.

"Yeah! It's done!"

"Oh, no! It's over!"

Plow through the last twenty pages (or hundred, or five, whatever it takes), and then write a one-page synopsis. If you can't, let the book sit and write another. Revise one, and then write another. Rinse, and repeat.

Linda Steele said...

Welcome to the club! This is perfectly normal for first time and unpublished novelists! Even published ones feel it. Panic comes from leaving the known (the writing) for the unknown. We've heard the horror stories, we've heard the snickers. We've heard the success stories, too, but all of a sudden they seem remote. Dare we hope? Hopes get dashed. Our nerves scream, "Don't jump!"

Of course, every published writer made that decision to jump. So look that fear in the eye, take a deep breath, polish up that lovely novel, write a sizzling query/synopsis and send it out to your very favorite agents or editors.

It took a lot of belief in yourself to write the book. Just believe in yourself a little bit more. For what it's worth, this happens to me with every book, and I've written several.

jill mansell said...

Oh yes indeed, this is what happens and will continue to happen. Twenty novels in, I still get that feeling as strong as ever, every single time, and it continues even after my agent and editor assure me the book is fine.
Welcome to the club!

zornhau said...

It's fairly standard onm first drafts for purely technical reasons, I suspect. However, I'm unpublished, so you can ignore what follows if you wish YMMV:

The end is like the tip of ap yramid. It reflects what comes before in concentrated form. Thus, any deficiencies become magnified and the climax seems somewhat lame.

Worry not. Write the end as if the preceding chapters contained what you needed, then make those changes on the next and final draft.

Anonymous said...

I had the same reaction when I finished my novel. Then I went looking for an agent (after vodka, not gin...sorry Miss Snark). Then I signed with a wonderful agent, three months now and nothing yet, and then the fear, depression,writers' anxiety kicked in totally. Now I do wonder why I wrote, why I spent three years writing and revising and to be soooooooooooooo close. And now I read that the REALLY hard part is after you sign with a publisher and you will NOT be marketed or treated like the guy from Cold Mountain. Tip the bottle of gin, blut then count all of your other blessings. That's just the way the publishing world works and we are not going to change it in our lifetime....unless maybe your under thirty! Good luck and enjoy your life as well as your writing. You are not alone....you have Miss Snark!
Now I have to go out and see about that broken water pipe under th house.

Anonymous said...

Coming to the end of a WIP can be a scary thing, joyous as it may have been to write. Your romp through lala land is coming to an end. It's time to bring it home - and do it well. The ending has to tie everything together. It has to satisfy. Fear of failure rears its ugly head. Common? Absolutely. Even the best among us have experienced the feelings at one point or the other that everything we have written is crap. The test is whether you can work through the insecurity and turn it around. If facing the ending overwhelms you, how are you going to deal with submissions and rejections? A big part of this gig is perserverence. You wanna succeed? Stop whining and keep writing.

Maya said...

My reaction was more similar to Diana Pharoh Francis' description (first comment here). I found that I was actually unable to finish my first novel until I'd started the new one. I simply didn't want to let go.

I've incorporated that dynamic into my writing process now so that I always start the new novel before I end the old one. Sounds strange, but it works for me.

mkcbunny said...

I am feeling this way right now. It seems normal, based on everything I've read, but that doesn't make it any easier. You just have to slap that self-doubt monster in the head and keep at it.

I'll add that it doesn't seem to have anything to do with "finding an ending." I'm not a linear writer; I had the beginning, middle and end drafed long before some of the pieces in between. I've always known where it was going, but that didn't stop me from having ongoing doubts and thinking it's a horribly written book.

Just Me said...

Finishing a first novel is a big rite-of-passage moment. Someone mentioned graduation and late-pregnancy panics, and I think the analogy's perfect. I remember having that exact feeling a few minutes before high-school graduation: oh God, I've changed my mind, I don't want to do this any more...

Something big, something into which you put a lot of time and energy and passion, is ending. It's TERRIFYING.

That terror takes people in different ways: fidgetiness, self-doubt, depression. Me, I cleaned my entire flat from top to bottom to avoid writing the final scene for a while, because I didn't want to lose hold of my narrator just yet. Some people decide that actually they want to write a different book instead, and they go off and start that one to avoid finishing the first. Some people think, 'Omigod it's crap I just wasted two years...' I really think they're all symptoms of the same thing.

Take a deep breath and jump. It's nice on the other side. I promise.

Anonymous said...

Listen to me, I so know what you are saying and I feel your pain. Currently, I am 100 pages into my third novel and I feel suicidal. No kidding. But I will get over it. And you will too. Just look back at how far you have come. IT only gets better. Haven't you learned a lot? Well--you'll be fine and hey--congratulations. (-:

Anonymous said...

WOW! Snarklings out in force on this one. See what a good writers group could do for you?

Eileen said...

Writing is pretty much one long journey through Dante's levels of hell. Next stop insecurity, one level down we have "I suck syndrome" followed by level 5 "why do I do this anyway." It's pretty much a non stop fun ride.

Steorling said...

I've found (after four completed novels and four more in every stage imaginable)that I shift opinions every week. I'm a really good writer...then I'm a hopeless hack. If you finish and that dissatisfaction is an impetous to getting to the edit or starting a new project, great! If it's what keeps you from ever submitting your work, time to boot that nasty demon of doubt out of your life. (I prefer steel-toed boots for the job, but I suppose stilletos work too.)

Anonymous said...

Four novels in, I still feel it, though it usually happens around the halfway mark. Then the rejections come in, and it gets worse because you think about all the steps needed to actually see that book in printed form (agent requests partial, agent requests full, agent signs you, publishing house editor reads book, editor buys book after getting the okay, book comes out, book makes enough money to make sure you can sell another one) and a failure on any one of those steps sets you back.

Mark said...

I'm at page 223 of a projected 300 plus and wondering how in the hell Michael Crichton got 622 pp. of text out of State of Fear.

Sherry Decker said...

Honestly, what I fear is that I'll never really let go of this darn book. When I get to the end I'll probably think of one more thing it needs, or I'll conjure up some scene I'd like to include. Hopefully, when I am 20 pages close to the end, I'll be thinking ahead to marketing, cover letters, finding an agent that handles science fiction, etc. Oh, to be that far along! I'll bet if you start jotting down ideas and notes for your next project, it might help. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

You will get over it! And yes, congratulations are definitely in order, so ... congrats!

For the record, my analogy for PCT (Post-Completion Tension) is like the first time I went overseas by myself. I was seventeen; I was really excited, I'd been dreaming about it for months ... and then I got on the plane, and it's like, "Let me off, let me off!" (Not that actually said that out loud, seeing as how that's the sort of thing that can get you arrested ...) But for half a penny, I'd gladly have jumped out the window :)

Patrice Michelle said...

Yes, it's normal. You've worked hard, gone full-steam up until this point and then you drive hard to get to the very end and then...those last few pages are harder. Maybe part of the reason it's so hard is that you want the end to be just as good as the rest of the book...to leave off with just as much momentum as you carried throughout the rest of the story.

Pepper Smith said...

Yeah, that's normal. It strikes writers in a number of different ways, but it's normal.

I get what a friend calls 'post-partum depression' once I've finished a story. It's literally like gestating and giving birth when you write. For a first novel, that last little bit can almost be like a fear of giving birth--once it's out, people are going to want to see it. That can be a bit daunting.

I actually go through a phase about six weeks after I finish where I totally hate what I've written. It can take six months to two years to get over it. Shrug. Like I said, it hits each of us differently.

Anonymous said...

I actually like the revision process, and I get to relive the events through revision. This is also where I get to know my characters better, find the flaws in my logic, and fix it. I've also found new ideas germinate. So far, it's been with the same character (what can I say? I love my characters, they speak to me. Actually, it's more like they're yelling at me, but that works). Sequel anyone?

Miss Audrey said...

I didn't have sense enough to worry about my writing until after it was a done deal and I had to send my baby out. She's been accepted, fondled, and sent back home, mauled, rejected and ashamed. Makes for a bit of self-doubt and that's just how it goes. I'm seriously considering shopping her little sister around... Another baby to the wolves -

When I came to the end of my first novel I panicked. I had started the novel with the end, and so as I neared the end I had to find my way full circle back to the beginning.

I didn't know if I could actually tie it all together and didn't feel like I could press forward. That led me to start writing, "Chapter the Last" in hopes of finding some happy medium in which it would all miraculously come together. Talk about crazy! It was way too busy for my brain!

I abandoned "Chapter the Last" and went on with the work. It ended up that the novel was finished before I ever reached "Chapter the Last" and "Chapter the Last" is now the second chapter of the sequel to the first novel.

Now if I could only force myself to complete the third in the trilogy. I'm a little over the half way point. I keep putting it off. Maybe I should write its "Chapter the Last!"

If only I had a safe haven and didn't have to worry about the wolves! I feel like Little Red Riding Hood with her babies in the basket.

AlmostDone said...

Thank you! Thank you, Suicidal Anonymous #8. I'm pages--maybe paragraphs--away from finishing my first manuscript. It's been agony.

McKoala said...

Normal for me too. Huge mixed feelings. I will miss my characters; and yes, it's all a load of rubbish. So far I've always been pleasantly surprised when I come back to my draft after a couple of months (I'm on 3 - one just posted out to agents; one in need of a polish and one in the bottom drawer in first draft aka first disaster format). I also love re-engaging with my characters and playing with my words again. Weird how satisfying rewrites can be sometimes.

Jaime Smith said...

Good for you on almost finishing your novel! Most people don't even make it that far.

Like other posters, I'm surprised you haven't felt this way before now. I'm constantly battling thoughts of inadequacy in my own writing. Just try to move past it, ignore the voices. Once it's finished you can say that you wrote a novel! How fantastic is that? Any fixing can be done later.

Keep writing. Finish. (I know, easier said than done, huh?)

Anonymous said...

I'm on the last 20 pages of my sixth novel, 100k with a due date of 5/1. I've been on this 20 pages for the last two weeks. The ending is always the hardest.

But getting up to that point, I've had plenty of what-made-me-think-I-could-write moments. I get them about 1/3, 1/2, 3/4 of the way through, and then again on the second draft. I'm on my third draft, and I don't typically write the ending until that draft is done, because so much changes. Only when I get to that point do I start to think that maybe, just maybe I can write.

It's common. Relax. A good majority of my published friends all suffer from the this-is-the-worst-book-I've-ever-written syndrome.

RB

Rei said...

I totally agree with the author who said that it hit them not when they were about to finish, but after the second or third pass through.

There were a number of reasons for this. For one, I've just read the book several times over. I could read any book several times in a row and find it as trite junk even if it's something that I adored the first time. It just gets old. Another reason was that I found a great critique partner: brutally honest, that is. I got my manuscript back with some paragraphs responded to with phrases like "Aaaaaaah!!!!" and "This is a total mess."

She was 100% right.

On the upside, the one thing that keeps me going is that everyone who's read it so far has used the following phrase for it: "Page turner". One person meant to read for an hour, and accidentally read all day until she finished the book.

Another worry is the ending, however. I love the ending - but I like endings that make you think and don't tell you all the answers. Endings that put people through hell and don't necessarily make things better, as long as the person is at peace with their setting. My first reader first read it, at first didn't like the ending, but by the time she talked to me, it has fermented in her mind long enough that she decided that she really liked it. The other didn't like it. So, I think I'm goinig to need to grab some more input before I start sending it out to agents. At least two more opinions.

It's stressful to say the least ;)

Saundra Mitchell said...

I cried when I finished my first novel, because I couldn't go to that place anymore. Even reading it wouldn't be the same; I'd just be looking in, never inhabiting again.

By the third novel, I was glad to get to "the end." Maybe it really does only hurt the first time.

Eliza said...

Go for that 20, love. Go for it. It's totally worth the disparaging thoughts to have a completed draft of a manuscript.

Re-read your first draft and find find some real gems that'll get you started on your second, and then you'll find that on your second you know your characters well enough to be able to smooth out your voice and style with fewer problems. It's rewarding, but you have to push through the 'throw the manuscript against the wall and hold a knife to the muse's throat' times.

And as always, take time off when it starts to stress you out.

Worth a read: a doctor talks about the ups and downs of writing life.

Anonymous said...

Someone nearly reached my own conclusion:

I call this phenomenom "post scriptum depression."

Happens every time.

Inkwolf said...

Depression isn't over yet! :p

After it's finished, you'll reread it so many times as you rewrite and copy-edit that it will seem horrible dull and hackneyed by the time you have something ready to send out.

And you might then read Miss Snark's critiques in the snarkives where she says things like "I would stop reading this book when you did that, that, or that..." and you say to yourself, "My god, I did all of those on Page Two!"

Personally, I'm teetering on the brink of another massive rewrite, and wondering whether it might just be more fun to say "Screw it!" and POD my silly fantasy book so I can go back to work on Book 2 and not worry about the finicky tastes of persnickety agents and editors any more...

Anonymous said...

It's kind of like moving to a new place, making new friends, maybe a soulmate, and then being told that you have to move on. When I wrote my first novel (as yet unpublished, not even an agent yet) I wrote the ending before the middle, just so I knew where I was going. Then finishing it wasn't so painful. Going back to it for editing was like revisiting an old place.
I did the same thing with book number two (also looking for an agent). I already knew how it was going to end - the story had been in my head for years. But this time I left the ending open so that perhaps I could visit the place again in the future.
I don't know how my third novel will end. It's in two time frames, with two points of view. I know how the time frame in the past will end, but not the one in present day. This is going to be really hard.
Every contributor to this thread empathizes with your irrational feeling that if you finish it, you'll have to go back and look at it again and conclude that it's nothing but junk. We all feel that. Maybe my first novel IS junk. Maybe that's why I get all those reject letters. But.... the dozen or so people who have critiqued it for me insist that it is entertaining and some have read it in one sitting. So.... there's hope out there.
Fly. If you hit the pavement a few times, pick yourself up and fly again. Eventually those wings will coordinate themselves. Then Woo Hoo! (I keep telling myself that, over and over).

Richard Lewis said...

Anonymous said After it's finished, you'll reread it so many times as you rewrite and copy-edit that it will seem horrible dull and hackneyed by the time you have something ready to send out.

And then an agent falls in love with it, and then an editor, and guess what. You get the galleys and you go over it and you start getting depressed all over again, sure that in the whole wide reading world, the book will be loved by only two people, and one of 'em ain't even Mom.

Anonymous said...

ooLetting go of an all-consuming endeavour (empty-belly, empty-nest syndrome) is always emotionally fraught. Lots of women, for example, get the urge to get pregnant again when their first child is about to leave diapers - who'da thunk?

We grow attached to the characters and the world we've created. They're what we KNOW.

I couldn't make myself write the last 30 pages of #1 novel until I had scribbled outlines for two more novels using the same lead characters/settings, so I could be sure I could revisit the characters any old time. Only then was I freed of the fear of loss, and could focus on simply tying up that novel.

Bonus: The outlines eventually turned into short stories that sold before the novel did - it's still in rewrite hell.

.02

Jeb

Trix said...

Oh man, I've hit that point every time with every one of about 10 novels. It's just a twinge of self-doubt, and you have to just trust yourself and your book, bull past the self-doubt, and keep going. It all works out in the end.

You have a great book going -- just trust yourself and finish it.

--sign me "Been there, done that"

Mizrepresent said...

ITs kinda nice to know you are not alone...here i sit with my 20 pages to go, and instead i start to edit and revise the beginning...go figure...i should be finishing this thing....i get depressed, i think it's not worthy, i put it down, and pick up a book..i even read Stephen Kings "On Writing" for the second time trying to get myself moving and moving i did...i wrote 4 more pages, but still not the end. Thanks to all for the encouragement!!!