What? Another checkup? Didn’t we just do one a few days ago for the end of week three? Yes, that’s true, but look at the date. Dude, you’ve got four days left. If you haven’t met the general goals you needed to meet by the end of week four (Day 28), you’ve got a mere two days to fit it all in and only two extra days as a cushion. It’s crunch time, baby!
However, I must immediately issue a proviso on this. Despite anything that follows below, if you manage to reach your fifty thousand words by November 30, it doesn’t matter whether your story or your dissertation or whatever has actually been completed. In the end, the goal of this exercise is to get yourself writing so you make fifty thousand words in the thirty available days. If you do that, you will be a NaNo Winner. You can compile and upload your book or nonfiction project—incomplete or not—and get it validated by the official NaNo site and recognize that you have done what the NaNo asked you to do. So yay either way!
FICTION: THE PINNACLE!
Whatever problem your character or characters have been working on all month, according to our pacing schedule, they should be solving it right about now, or else in a big flurry of activity over this coming weekend. The traitor is revealed! Was it a member of the group all along? Was it someone a group member was close to? Does this mean the group member has to make a final decision between turning her great friend over to the authorities or letting the group members suffer some loss or defeat because of her silence?
Or maybe the central love interest in your romantic story of thwarted or star-crossed love suddenly realizes, for various reasons that have been gradually discovered through the course of the story, that the person he or she thought was The One really wasn’t—your main character is The One instead, and now there’s the last difficulty of getting the love interest extricated, once and for all, from the involvement with the other person. Will the other person try to thwart this happy ending? Will he or she threaten to reveal a secret, and the love interest must make a choice? Or will there perhaps be a kidnapping attempt? Can your hero get there in time to stop the bad guy (or girl!) at last and seal the romantic deal?
Or perhaps the main character realizes that there’s truly only one solution to this world-threatening issue—there’s only one way to save everybody, and he’s not telling anyone, so no one can try to talk him out of it. He’s simply going to step into the breach and make the required sacrifice, gladly, at complete peace with himself. You can deal with the aftermath (which will involve emotion aplenty for those left behind) over the next couple of days or so, but This is The Big Moment. Keep the heroism low-key, though, because there’s nothing more overdone than a string of melodramatic declarations; a quiet peace and a knowledge of the rightness of things can be infinitely more dramatic and moving than exaggerated grand gestures. If necessary, you can have the remaining characters hash things over for the next couple of days; that can be the wind-down of your story as they, too, attain a degree of peace, or at least pf understanding, realizing that their great-hearted friend did exactly the right thing, no matter how painful it might have been.
Whatever the resolution of your story, this is the moment you’ve been working up to for almost four weeks now. If you have managed to pace yourself properly, it’s all coming together. Your subplot may already have been resolved, or perhaps it will be resolved in the climax of the main plot, with the revelation of one last secret, maybe, or the tying together of two problems with one solution.
Whatever personal conflicts your characters have had must either be resolved now, or at least set aside so they can work together toward a common goal, or it should be clear that whatever breach there might be has now become permanent, and the characters move on into a new reality.
But what if you haven’t gotten anywhere close to resolving or finishing things? At the pace you’re going, perhaps the climax of the story won’t happen until, say, next Wednesday, December 2. Okay, then, that’s no big deal. Yes, after all this work, it will be somewhat disappointing not to have finished the story completely. But if you have reached fifty thousand words, what does it matter?
Will anyone be stopping you from continuing to write the story until it’s finished?
Many people have used the NaNo as the start of their work on a novel that they continue to write and edit and polish for months after the NaNo is over. Often, the push to write fifty thousand words in November is the one thing that pushed them over the edge and got them writing. They just needed to get into “enthusiasm mode” and “determination mode,” and the NaNo certainly accomplished that.
If your story is almost finished, push to try to finish it. If it’s not going to be finished, but you’re still going to reach fifty thousand words by next Monday—don’t sweat it. As I said above, you will still be a winner.
But keep going for these last four days! Now is not the time to slack off. There will be plenty of time for that starting on December 1.
NONFICTION: THE CONCLUSION
It doesn’t sound quite as dramatic to say that you’re “reaching your conclusion” as it does to say that “you’re reaching the climax.” (Even if you think of the latter phrase solely in terms of story structure and not in, ahem, other terms.) But anybody who tries to say that writing and finishing a nonfiction project is always less interesting or dramatic than writing and finishing a great story has probably never worked on a large nonfiction work themselves. (Or have had a bad experience, which is really unfortunate.) I’ve written a Master’s thesis, and the thrill of actually writing that conclusion and finishing the thing is not (usually) just about finally getting it off your back so you can graduate. It’s about the pride and happiness that you actually did all that research—you actually did all that writing—you actually said something interesting and important about your topic—and you finished. That’s a heady feeling, believe me. It’s a real feeling of accomplishment.
So what should you be doing, about now, with only four days left? If you divided your subject into three or four subtopics, you should be winding up your final subtopic today or tomorrow. Recount that final, crowning anecdote about some specific cat’s adventures outside or how a cat adorably adopted your baby as its kitten or how your small but rambunctious kitten brought your Christmas tree down six times over the holidays. (That one’s real. She was my little black kitten. I could write a book—or maybe I will! That could be a future NaNo project for me, who knows?)
Or finish describing the final fascinating fact about those irregular galaxies, the final type of galaxy you’ve been dealing with after writing first about elliptical galaxies and then writing about the beautiful spirals. Describe the difficulties of actually seeing individual stars in those irregular galaxies, because of all the dust clouds that go through them. (It’s not just their shape that’s irregular, but their composition and internal organization as well.) Or you might finish with a crescendo, describing what might occur over millions of years as two galaxies collide, intermingle, and gradually form a brand new galaxy made up of both previous galaxies, minus, perhaps, some solar systems or individual stars or planets that might have been flung off into empty space during the intermixing. If you need a little more to talk about for your last day before getting to your conclusion, you could even briefly branch off and go into more detail about the rogue stars and planets that might even now be speeding alone through space after such a cataclysm. (Did you see that I worked the word “cat” back in there? Never mind.)
And you should, of course, already be contemplating what you will write as your conclusion over the next three or four days or so. You’ve given people a lot of information, but so what? What is the significance, ultimately, of this information?
Were you writing to non-cat people to try to explain the nature and personalities of cats so that perhaps these people will be more sympathetic to those who love cats? (Or to the cats themselves, even?) Or was “I just love cats” the real purpose of your writing, with no goal much beyond that? That’s a valid conclusion too, you know. You can write your conclusion to slant it toward those who share that great love of our feline companions. This can be a book of sharing, of essentially saying, “Aren’t they just wonderful?” Your book could be a handbook for new cat staff or a little book of facts that even some seasoned cat-lovers might not have known before. But whatever your purpose, you need to be thinking about it now, because you will need to be starting to write about it by tomorrow or November 28 at the latest.
And what is the ultimate purpose in your writing about those algae or that weather phenomenon or that historical figure? Does the person from history have any bearing on what we see around us now? Remember that entertaining saying, “If you can’t be a shining example, then be a horrible warning”? You might use something along those lines as a jumping off point for writing your conclusion about a historical event or figure.
It might be hard to write a conclusion that shows some immediate purpose for knowing about various types of galaxies. And yet, the physics that created those galaxies is the same physics that affects our world and our surroundings. Can you relate your discoveries somehow to everyday life? You don’t have to, though, if that’s not your focus. As with cats, it may just be enough to say, “I love learning about galaxies because they’re so cool, and so immense, and so majestic and fascinating.” That would be my own reason.
Some people have actually, for real, used the NaNo project to get going on their thesis or dissertation or nonfiction book rather than just to do it as a fun writing exercise. Well, I mean, it was still fun, but they really made some great progress, finally getting that dissertation started, finally taking that subject they knew so much about but had never gotten down on paper and actually writing about it. (And family history and genealogy? There’s another type of nonfiction project—maybe next year?) If you’ve been involved in something like a thesis, you may have known from the start that you wouldn’t actually get your project finished. (And even a thesis started for NaNoWriMo would need a lot of editing later.) But the NaNo was the springboard for making progress on it.
So as I said above, it doesn’t really matter if you can’t quite finish your topic or your conclusion or your thesis or whatever. If you have reached that fifty thousand word plateau by the thirtieth—you have still won! You have accomplished your goal.
So buckle down for these last four days and do what you can. You are so close to the finish line, and if you don’t let yourself stumble during these last four days, you will soon burst across that line with your arms raised in victory.