Monday, June 23, 2014

Getting Through the Middle

Recently, I’ve been helping a friend go through the first few chapters of a draft.  The characters were solid, the story interesting.  I couldn’t wait for the next chapters.  Then, the momentum slowed, and I started to notice her get a bit discouraged. 

She’d reached that dreaded middle section.  The part where it’s not the shiny new beginning, and it wasn’t the exciting climax and end.  For some reason, I’ve seen that middle get so many people.  Instead of continuing, they stop, go back to the beginning and revise.  And revise.  And revise.  Because there’s no reason continuing until you’ve got the beginning down, until you’ve got it polished.

She’s not the only one I’ve seen do that.  I’ve worked with multiple people who get to the middle and start to wonder about their ability to finish.  They get distracted by the call of shiny, new ideas.  There’s always something easier than writing the sagging middle of the story. 

Beginnings are fun.  That’s where you’re just starting out on the journey.  You’re refreshed, invigorated, and ready to go.  Imagine a long car ride.  You start out, throw everything in the car, get on the highway and blast music while you rush to your final destination.  But somewhere along the way, it’s not so fun anymore.  Your seat starts to hurt, your legs get tired.  You just want to stretch.  You start asking that dreaded question:

“Are we there yet?”

I like to take pictures out the window on road trips

I’ve found that writing’s very similar.  It’s not as fun and glamorous as it looks.  I have so many unfinished novels, they could fill a shelf.  It wasn’t until I finished my first one that I realized that it could be done.  Here’s what I learned with that novel.

Finishing is even better than starting. 

There’s nothing like it.  It’s exhilarating staring at a completed manuscript and knowing that you wrote the entire thing.  You started out on a project with just an idea, and now, it’s here, complete, in your hands. 
So for all of you that struggle with that middle, I have just a few words of advice.

1.       Have a plan in mind. 
      I know that not all writers are the same.  Some people like to have detailed outlines while others like to write by the seat of their pants.  But that doesn’t mean that we all need to know where we’re going.  A roadmap can help immensely.  Or even just those signs at the side of the road: Milwaukee turn right, Houston turn left.  Know at least the direction you need to go.  It’s very easy to give up and go back to start when you’re lost.

2.       Skip to the next section

This is how I finished my first novel.  I actually got stuck at the beginning.  I had my plan in place, but for some reason, I couldn’t write it!  I didn’t want to just leave it at the beginning, so instead, I jumped to a section I was excited to write.  The point where two of the main characters meet.  I wrote from that point until I got stuck.  Then I skipped to another section.  I was always working on the story, but whenever I got stuck, I moved somewhere else in the plot.  I found that it was almost like starting a new story, and it gave me the energy to keep working on that specific novel.  At one point, I had five different sections of my story written, and in the end, they all came together.  Not exactly seamlessly, but that’s what revisions are for, right? 

3.       Just keep writing

That’s really the most important.  Writing isn’t going to be easy.  It’s going to be hard.  Life gets in the way, the words don’t come out like we want.  I’m a big fan of getting the words on the page now and fixing and revising later.  Force yourself through that section you don’t want to write, or the one that you just can’t figure out.  It’ll come to you.  Tell yourself that giving up is not an option.  Then treat yourself to some cake once you finish.  There’s no incentive like some yummy food to get through the hard parts.

Do any of you have advice for getting through those sagging middles?  I’d love to hear it!