The siren song of “almost”

“Almost” is a funny word.

It can be tinged with negativity. “I almost finished writing a book.” You tried, but you didn’t quite make it.

It can be tinged with optimism. “I almost got hit by that truck, but it missed.” Thank goodness, a miracle!

The key, I think, is how you approach it. Last fall, I participated in NaNoWriMo. If you aren’t familiar with it (and you probably are), the goal is to write 50,000 words, a complete novel (first draft at least) in 30 days.

It’s really hard. First, that averages out to 1,667 words a day. It’s no joke to write that much ever day, especially if you have a family, and a day job, and other obligations (which most of us have). A lot of people who start don’t finish. Life has a way of getting in the way like that.

Second, writing like that demands the ability to turn off that inner editor. You know, the one who wants to polish every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence until it gleams before going on to the next one. Some writers can do that. Some can’t. Neither one is right, they just are.

The folks who don’t write 50k are often left with a feeling of “I almost made it,” or “I didn’t win.” But here’s the thing, and the message that wrapped up NaNoWriMo: Even if you only wrote 30,000 words, that’s 30,000 words more than you had when you started.

If a typical novel has between 60,000 and 90,000 words, you are one-half to one-third of the way there.

And that’s big, huge in fact. It’s a start. You’ve almost finished. The ring is within your grasp.

I write this on a day when I’m feeling kind of down, actually. I spent the morning reading up on publishing industry news, and was left with a decidedly dispirited attitude. So few people make it. Why should I bother? Why am I even trying to do this writing thing?

And the answer has to be, because I love it. I don’t feel complete if I’m not crafting a story – some kind of story, either my police-procedural series or my middle-grade fantasy. In the end, that’s really the only valid reason there is.

As I told my husband about my feelings, he said, “Look, you’ve been at this for what, three years? Look how far you’ve come. You’ve got books out, stories published. Don’t give up now, you’re almost there.”

Perhaps that is the greatest thing about “almost.” You’re not quite there yet. You’ve got more work to do, more revisions to make, more experience to gain. And there’s a huge amount of luck involved, too. But you’re further along than you were. Don’t give up now.

Because, in the end, the distance from “almost” to “finished” is in your mind.

And that’s one thing that is completely in your control.

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Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for fifteen years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, her short fiction has been published in online magazines Uppagus and Mysterical-e. She has also had stories included in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

8 thoughts on “The siren song of “almost””

  1. If you have books out after only three years in this business, you are doing terrific, in my opinion.

    I also wondered what your definition of having “made it” is. I think that is a moving target for many of us and all about managing expectations.

    I think you are doing great! : )

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  2. Thanks, Kristi. On a “good day,” I have “made it.” I have published stuff out there, short stories and the middle grade works. When I write new submissions, I can actually list credits. And that’s a-okay.

    On a “bad day,” well, I’m still not making much money. I still have to work a day job. I still wonder if I’ll always have to. And in that sense, I’ve “almost, but not quite” made it.

    But thanks for the compliment. 😉

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  3. I had a feeling NaNo was going to make its way into our almost theme! In fact, I almost blogged about it yesterday 🙂 I so agree with the sliding scale of almost having made it. I can turn off my inner editor to write, but not my inner critic!

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  4. Great post! I love the NaNo example because I think you’re so right. It’s hard. And most people don’t finish. But even when you finish it, you’re not truly done.

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  5. Diane, isn’t that the truth? As for Nano, well, I “almost” didn’t write this post. Funny thing, yesterday Hank Phillippi Ryan blogged at Jungle Reds about always having doubts that “this time” will work out as well as last time. So I guess that inability to turn off the inner critic doesn’t go away with success (and personally, I found that admission on Hank’s part incredibly comforting)

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