The dreaded middle

It’s finally here, and knowing that it would come doesn’t make it any easier. Three days before the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I’ve hit the dreaded middle of my novel. The point where I hate all my characters, I don’t know where this story is going, I don’t know how I thought it was a good idea, and I don’t remember why I ever thought I could be a writer. Or that I had anything interesting to say. Incidentally, I still like Naheli’s Sacrifice, but I guess it has to be, then, the only great story I had in me. I’m guessing most writers know this feeling.

The good thing is, this isn’t my first novel, and this isn’t the first time I’ve hit this point in my writing. I was semi-prepared for it, and I have some strategies to pull myself out of it. My logical mind knows that this is a normal part of writing, that I’ve come through it before, and that it’s a matter of persistence and careful examination of the story now. Why did I come to a halt here? What problem is there that my Muse has spotted but I haven’t? Knowing that I’ve been here before, and that this is fixable, will stop me from giving up and throwing this story away.

What I’ve done so far is a read-through of my manuscript so far and a collection of all the story points that seem valuable and important to me. I’ve also found that my main character has reached a point where her initial compelling need won’t carry her anymore, so I need to look at that and figure out how her needs have changed and what she wants right now. These are some starting points. Then of course there’s Holly Lisle’s brilliant writing course How To Think Sideways (I’ll never stop talking about that one), which contains a chapter exactly on this problem, so I’ll be going back to that and reading up on her advice. I know it’s helped me before.

The interesting thing is that a very clear split of Feeling and Thinking occurs here. The first half of a novel, for me, belongs mostly to the feeling part of my brain (although I’m such a structured person that probably a lot of thinking goes into it without me noticing), but this middle is thinking business. Most importantly, it’s now the thinking part’s task to convince the feeling part that we can do this. That it’s okay to stall, to falter, and that we’ll stand up again and see this novel through to the end. That it may take some time, but we’ll find the right path and we’ll turn this story into something we are happy with, even if it takes a long revision.

I kept a writing diary while I wrote Naheli’s Sacrifice, and it’s funny to read in retrospect. Having published Naheli and being so happy with the result, it’s easy to forget that it was a piece of work, too. I wasn’t by far happy all of my writing days. I messed up the ending horribly in the first draft. I had a story in shambles before I went into revision. And some days, I hated the story and Naheli and Thilkhan and their stupid island.

Then I revised it and I ended up loving it.

Keeping a diary like that makes it easier, coming to this point now with Darklight Rest. Once you have pushed your way through one, two, or several novels, you don’t encounter every problem for the first time. Of course there are always new ones, but some are familiar, and even if you don’t have the one-fits-all solution, it’s a comfort to know that you have fixed it before. I’ll fix it this time around, too.

NaNoWriMo starts in three days, and I’ll be ready to write on Tuesday. I don’t know how at the moment, but I will be writing. This part of a novel requires persistence, and that’s something I’m good at. So, off to diagnosing the problem.

Ever hit the middle of a novel and stalled out? Tell me about it!

Room for writing

I’m incredibly inspired lately, and very suspicious of it. I know, I know, I ought to be thankful, and I am, but it’s been so long that I felt like this that I keep fearing this rush might end. Though deep down I don’t think so, not right now. I’ve cared better for myself this past year, I’ve tended to my Muse, taken time for my writing, been in closer contact with myself through morning pages, so this isn’t a fluke. That’s just my Old Critic’s voice creeping in, telling me I’m not cut out to be this, a writer.

But while it lasts: It’s fantastic! I am now over 40,000 words into Darklight Rest and still haven’t hit “the middle” where things slam to a sudden stand-still. Even better, I’ve failed twice before trying to write this story, and both times for the same reason (I think): It was too character-based, centered only around Liya and Mariany and ignoring the rest of the people and the immense conflicts that could arise from a setting like that. This time, there are half a dozen other characters who have interacted with Liya as much as or more than Mariany, and I have (gasp!) subplots!

Now, I realize this doesn’t sound very confidence-building, coming from a supposed author. But this is first draft, and first draft is chaotic, and I’m just glad it’s flowing as well as it is. I’ll pick up the pieces in revision, and I know that I can. Revision is a beautiful, powerful process that can turn a real mess into a brilliant story. I’m looking forward to it!

Favourite quote from today’s writing:

Just that the sky over Darklight Rest would never be full of stars. Liya wasn’t even sure that stars existed in this place.

My Muse was really with me this morning. The words just flowed from my fingers, beautiful, easy, right. Those are the moments I write for, and would write for even if I could never earn a cent with my writing (now that I already have, I guess that statement doesn’t work anymore; still true, though).

Another cool thing: I keep having little glimpses of ideas for a prequel to Naheli’s Sacrifice. I thought I was done with this world, but the idea of returning to the island, if only to meet those characters again at a different time in their lives, keeps enticing me. It’s one of those that won’t let go, I think. Right now, I’m thinking a young Dhamikhan, coming to the island for the first time, and a story explaining who he used to be and how he turned out to become the powerful Lord Dhamikhan supervising Naheli’s Sacrifice. If Darklight Rest shouldn’t last me through all of NaNoWriMo, I think I’ll be doing this prequel next. 🙂

Finally: I’m up to six reviews on Amazon now! 😀 During my latest free promotion, I was able to give away exactly 100 copies of the e-book. How great is that?! People all over the world reading (or at least owning) my story! And I can’t wait to put more stories out there. It seems the more room I allow my writing to take, the more my Muse comes out of hiding. I love this!

The 2nd fifth

Writing has been good lately. Great, actually. I’m writing daily and usually getting at least 1,000 words, which I’m putting down to working less so there’s just more energy left for creative work. Teaching children is immensely creative, but it’s also draining. This school year, there’s just more room for stories in my head. 🙂

Darklight Rest is progressing well. I’m in that lovely place of a novel that is after the beginning (which usually consists of a lot of finding my way, my voice, the direction of the story) and the dreaded dragging middle (where I lose my way completely and have no idea what I wanted with this story in the first place). So roughly the second fifth of a new project always flies — characters keep popping up, the setting grows as I need it, witty dialogues and unexpected rules jump up from all directions. I’m enjoying this part of the writing. I sit down every evening and get words almost immediately. Varyan, who was intended to be a side character, is taking much of the stage and being surprisingly loud-mouthed. Not the way I imagined him, but I’m going to let him play for now and see what he’s planning.

I’m starting to like Liya a lot. She has a bit of spine that I want to bring out more, and she says what’s on her mind. She’s still succumbing to Darklight Rest, but I there’s not much she can do at this point.

Mariany, on the other hand, hasn’t made an appearance at all yet, although she was meant to be the second main character. I’m not worried, though. The more backstory and subplot I have, the better. Last time I tried getting this story right, it came out too thin. When there’s too much, I can always cut later. (I cut LOTS out of Naheli, leaving only the bare, stark bones of the real story in the end.)

I’m not sure, however, that this is still going to be the story I’d originally intended. That’s fine, too. My Muse usually comes up with something better during the process, even if that means ditching ALL of my plans, and 99% of my first draft writing. I write fast, so I can shoulder that time loss. The first draft always seems to be like just writing down what the story is really meant to be — what I honestly wanted to tell, beyond all the things that I thought I wanted to tell. It’s pure creativity.

Also, NaNoWriMo is around the corner! It’s my eleventh year, and my third go at Darklight Rest. I have a good feeling this time around, though. I’ll get it done this year. The characters are coming out too strongly to go back into hiding after this.

Finally: I’m celebrating my very first subscriber to my mailing list and three reviews for Naheli’s Sacrifice. 🙂  Moving very slowly here, but steadily. That’s always been the way I work, taking longer time than others to get going, but then staying on the path until I hit my goal. Doesn’t matter if it takes decades; I plan to be around and writing for a while yet!