Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stuck in the Middle

Well I don't know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain't right,
I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I'm wondering how I'll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
'Cause I don't think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Stuck in the Middle with You. Lyrics by Stealers Wheel

Why am I quoting a song that I haven't listened to in years? Because it relates exactly to what I'm going through right now with this WIP. Stuck. In. The. Middle. With IT.

Now I'm not totally despairing of the situation. Yet. I know I go through this with EVERY book I write. Every single one. In fact, right about now is usually when I put the WIP aside and take a break from it. I did it with ILLEGALLY BLONDE. Started writing it in May 2006. Stopped in July. Didn't pick it up again until October. Finished it in early December. Total writing time about 5-6 months. Total break time about 2 months. The book I just submitted to my agent was like that too. I'd written the first half then stopped and started another book. But when my agent advised me that the one I'd shoved aside was probably the right one to go with I picked it up again. After that break I finished it in about 3 months.

So the question is: why on earth do I do this?? What is it about the middle of the book that ties me up in knots, frustrates me and makes me put the book aside?

I know I'm not a huge outliner. I don't need to know every single thing that happens in a plot before I write it. But neither am I a complete pantser. I know my beginning, I know my ending, I may know a couple of things that might happen in the story to get me to that end. But is it this hybrid approach of mine that creates its own special circumstances that lead to this struggle in the middle? I still feel like I'm sort of tied to a general outline that I have in my head, yet I know I'm free to waver and move from that outline whether in changing the tone or characters as I get deeper into the book. Is it this struggle between sticking to my orginial idea and having that original idea change up on me that drives me slightly crazy?

I think that's what's happening now. I thought I had one kind of story but it's turning into another kind - much darker and more complicated (a fairy tale retelling that has a murder mystery in it? Really??) that I need to stop and regroup. Because I write the first draft in long-hand it's hard for me to go back and re-read what I've written. So sometimes it helps at this point in my process to go back and start to type the first half of it and see if it's working. I've just typed up the first chapter (I'm currently on Chapter 18) and thankfully I really liked it. I'm hoping that as I type up the next 17 I have written I will see that the story really is working and that I just have to get to that next big event which will eventually lead to the climax and denouement and it'll be gravy.

A good writer friend suggested I should just write up the ending and that would give me a concrete finish line - a goal - to motivate me to get through the murky middle. But I need to go through a story linearly. I can't write up pieces and then fit them together later. I never did like puzzles too much.

So, whether I like it or not, I need to appreciate that this is my process. I do get stuck in the middle and I'll keep singing that song until I finally see my way out - then I can start singing Miley Cyrus's The Climb instead:

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb


  1. Yeah, outlining more may be the key. Do that myself now and it definitely helps...

  2. Hi Bev: I know - I should start outlining more and pantsing less. Just don't want to lose the spontaneity of the story too much.

  3. I just can't believe that you write out the whole story long hand! But I've heard of others doing this too. You're not alone. :)

  4. Hi Laura: Yep. The whole story in longhand. If I started writing it on the computer I'd be rewriting the first chapter for months! Computer time is editing time for me.