The Best Way Out of Hell – #AmWriting Cross-Post

Or, The Mushy Middle

My second-favorite analogy for writing a piece of fiction is swimming across a wide river.

When you start, you’re enthusiastic about the challenge you’ve taken on, and from the bank of the river you can see how far you have to go, and you think, it’s not that far. By the time you get near the end, you’ve come too far to turn back, and your enthusiasm has returned because the end of the trial is in sight. But in the middle, when you can’t see the other side of the river anymore, when you’re still closer to the place you started than to the place you’re trying to go, moving forward is hard. Harder than it should be. Hard because you know there’s still so far to go, and you’re already tired. Hard because you’re not quite sure where you are anymore, so you don’t know if swimming forward will actually take you toward your destination. That feeling of being lost is frightening, and its accompanying sense of helplessness is paralyzing. The swimmer panics; the writer abandons the project.

My favorite analogy? “The best way out of hell is through the other side.”

I am nearing the end of my first novel. In 10 years of writing, I have started more novels than I can remember and finished none of them. I would get about 20-30,000 words in and hit this wall I simply could not get past. I would second-guess the beginning and start from scratch and then finally give up on the project and move on…only to do the same thing again. And again.

About a year and a half ago, to figure out what was misfiring in my writing process, I tried writing in microcosm—novelettes and novellas. In my practice shorts, I hit the same pattern, except I could force myself through the middle because I only needed a few thousand words to finish the story.

And I found a new pattern: once I got into the part of the story where events were wrapping up into the conclusion, the writing became easy again.

This revelation made it clear that for me, the middle is the problem…and that is a huge problem, because the middle is where the events that make the ending inevitable occur. That mushy middle third is the part of the story where the story actually happens.

The middle of a story is my writing hell, but it cannot be skipped because the events of the end depend upon the events of the middle. The middle causes the end; what happens in the middle makes the ending inevitable, and there is no ending if those events do not take place. The only option for completing a piece is to write through the middle—to write my way through to the other side of hell.

So, if I am finally finishing a novel, how have I managed it this time?

I wish I could say that knowing my weak spot gave me conviction and determination to get through it. The truth is less glamorous: I didn’t start writing until I had an outline for the entire story.

The difference I had found in writing shorts, you see, was clarity. With my earlier novels I’d had only where the story started and where it ended up—with the shorter pieces I knew everything that happened in between. That certainty was my compass in the river to tell me which way to swim.

I am happy to report that the compass is just as effective in a wider river. Or should I say a deeper circle of hell….

Read the post at amwriting here.

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Filed under Lily Elsewhere, Writing

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