Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Over at Whateverville, James Maxey has a post on plowing through the Mushy Middle. Having finished a short story last night during the writing of which I succumbed to the aforementioned Middle, I can relate. Excerpts:

The Mushy Middle is something almost all novelists have faced. I've been involved with critique groups and networking with other writers since the mid-nineties, and the experience seems to be a familiar one. It's easy to start a novel, and get three or five or seven chapters into it. Then, frequently, the whole thing bogs down. The initial enthusiasm for the project wanes as some of the realities of writing a book begin to hit home. The first reality is, books don't write themselves. If you're a beginning novelist, this frequently comes as a shock. I was like many novice novelists years ago, writing mainly when I was inspired to write. Inspiration can carry you through early chapters. But, inspiration as an intellectual state is fleeting. If you can hold on to the feeling for more than a few hours you're lucky. Some folks can hold onto inspiration for weeks, perhaps. But, it seldom lasts the duration of a full scale novel, which can't be written in weeks, but is instead a project lasting months, even years. At some point, enthusiasm fades on any project, and this is where many beginning writers falter. I, personally, can't count how many novels I started in the 1990's only to abandon them in the quicksands of the Mushy Middles. …

The main thing that helps me get through the mushy middle is a deadline. The mushy middle is why my first three novels were all multi-year projects. I'd start them, then lose interest. Then, a few months later, I'd get an idea on what to do next in the abandoned novel, and return to the project, write a few more chapters, then lose interest again. I consider myself very fortunate to have completed one book, let alone three, using this start and stop method. On my fourth novel, Nobody Gets the Girl, I set myself a very firm 45 day deadline to write the first draft of whole book. … And I discovered something interesting: Even though I felt like I was writing meandering, disjointed crap at the time, when I finally read the book a year later I discovered that some of my most random chapters were actually pretty good. …

Dragonforge went the same way. All the teen chapters were written in the complete absense of inspiration. I spent months certain that my writing career was over, because unlike Nobody, this book was already slated for publication on a set date. I worried thousands of readers would read hit those chapters and just abandon the book, and never read me again. After the first draft, I still wasn't fully happy with those chapters... but, luckily, I had a second draft! A do-over. So I did a lot of them over. Then, after my wise-readers, I got to do them over again, and by draft three I was happy with the middle of my book.

So far my experience has been that plowing on even when my imagination is empty and my clever meter is sitting on zero always produces fruitful results.
Read the whole thing.

(Picture: CC by jslander)

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