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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Messy Middle and what to do about it

I'm getting to that part of EMBER where I don't really know where it's going because everything is going at once, and I thought I needed some reminders of what to do about this stuff--and then I thought maybe you guys might like a quick discussion of the middle, too! So here goes, this is everything I know about getting through the middle of your novel.

1. Keep going
It's super tempting to just give up as soon as things get crazy and / or hard. Like, far more tempting than it should be. Usually by now, I have already started planning some other shiny-new siren of a story that wants my attention, and it would be so easy to just leave the mess as it is and go start something new, and get that rush of a story that wants to be written again...

But that's not how books get written. That's how books get started and then get abandoned.

2. Keep track
I'm a big fan of taking notes all the time as you write. Like, if you read this blog, you'll see me harping about it every third post or so. But here's the thing: when you get to the middle of a book, that's when you'll want all those notes. Lists of characters are super important when your books get suddenly full of characters after the world opens up in part two. Lists of what you intended to do are lifesavers when you get to somewhere and you just draw a total blank on how to get those characters out of there.

So every time to change something, every time you start something and then stop for the day, every time you have an idea for something you haven't gotten to yet, write it down. And keep it where you can find it, because it's no use if you don't know what you wrote two months from now when you need it.

3. Make corrections as you go (and keep track of them, too)
Instead of sticking it out and going "I'll fix it in post", make the changes now. Each time you think "well, this whole thing should be more punk"*, or "they need to have been heading this way all along", or "that person actually is this totally other gender / species / plot-device / etc", make a note in the margin to remind yourself that when you revise, you need to fix it before this, and then continue from that point under the new assumption about everything. Things will still be a mess when you go to revise**, but that's why I call the first draft the Mess Draft, and why no one reads it until at least the First Official Draft one or two run-throughs later.

But more importantly, correcting as you go means everything after that point will be right. Or at least right-er. And that's less stuff you have to drastically redo afterward.

4. Brainstorm a lot
Like, a lot. The more story you have--and chances are, at the middle is when you'll have the most story on your hands--the more you need to start knowing how things will connect up, what they'll mean, where they go. If you're stuck, just start writing down what you have and drawing lines between it. Chances are, all of a sudden, you'll start seeing how things could match up, how they could parallel, where they could wind up changing the context of the whole rest of the story. 

Or, if you need to know how to get your characters from where they are to this one point you see in the future but don't see how to get to, start sketching out timelines. Think about what has to happen between now and then, what could go wrong, where they could go, what ideas you wanted to get in and haven't gotten to yet, the implications and ominous meanings of what's already happened that hasn't fallen out yet. 

Or, worse comes to worse, just, like, list every single idea you can come up with, no matter how bonkers, and run with it until either it's too dumb to look at--or until you have an amazing new story thread to weave into the book.

5. Don't worry too much about the future
I know this sounds counter to what I said above, but here's the thing: you have to know where you're going, but what really matters, in the moment when you're typing stuff up and writing it down, is that you know where your feet are right now. Think about three plot points ahead more than you think about the distant outcome. The Middle is often a lot of slogging, but it's slogging along a trail. You might not always know how the trail gets to the top of the hill, but you know it does, and you can see two or three or four of the bends that get you there. 

Less metaphorically, this means write your day's writing, and then before you close up for the day, note three things you wanted to happen next. Even if you don't use them, even if you keep them but skip over then when you're writing and pick up on the other side, they're what you focus on right now, and trust that even when it feels like you're not getting anywhere and all you're producing is crap, your subconscious, where stories come from, knows what it's doing. This is the part of writing where you need to get out of your own way.

Now it's your turn: How do you get through the Messy Middle of a book? Or even just a little story? Share!

It is, Chuck, but that's how you know it's worth doing.

*File under "actual thoughts I've had about this actual book".
**It's ALWAYS a mess when you go back to revise.


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