persistence

SWCF manuscript and notes

Slogging Through the Mushy Middle

Nothing is as easy as not writing.

My current work in progress is at the 60% point, based on my scribbled outline. The word count is approaching 60,000, with a goal of 90,000 to 100,000, allowing for trimming off 10,000 words in rewrites. The crisis and climax are crystal clear in my mind, glowing like the Arkenstone in the dragon hoard of Smaug.

So what’s the problem? Or am I just gloating?

No gloating here. Sixty thousand words in eight months doesn’t warrant it. (“Gloat today, grieve tomorrow,” as someone said, or should have). The problem is I have only the fuzziest notion of how to get my character from ‘here’ (the village of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna near the Theban Necropolis) to ‘there’ (the… oh, wait — can’t reveal that. No self-spoilers!)

This is the manuscript that was abandoned on page 17 for a couple of years. Almost a year ago, I decided to go against advice and offer it to my critique group at the first draft stage, section by section.

So far, I’ve written ten of fifteen sections (five to seven thousand words each). I scribble each part in longhand first, just to splash something onto the page. Keying it into Word, I make it real, adding material as needed and changing details. After a bit of polishing, off it goes to the group, to be critiqued at our next monthly meeting. This creates a deadline, which has worked well to keep me slogging forward.

It’s a scary feeling, as each critique meeting winds up, to know I have to create at least five thousand more words of coherent narrative in less than a month. Somehow, during the summer, I managed to get ahead by one chunk, which lessens the panic a little. Of course, if I fail to deliver, it doesn’t really matter. The group won’t mind; it’s one less thing to read before the meeting, and allows more time to discuss the pieces put forward. But it’s still a public no-show — same idea as exercising with a buddy. You don’t want to look like a quitter, so you show up.

But the mushy middle part of a novel — that’s perilous territory. Self-doubt migrates to it and lurks there. Little imps pop up and whisper things like, “Boring!” “Slow!” “Too much ‘telling,’ not enough ‘showing’!” “Why bother writing this? You’ll just have to cut it.” And the biggest imp of all comes up with, “Just give up already. There are already too many books out there. No one’s going to read this, so just give up.”

This recent post from blogger K.M. Allan was really helpful.

Like a mudhole, the mushy middle isn’t the place to stop and brood. I tell myself to keep slogging and just get through it before I sink. I’ll bet many novels are abandoned at this stage. Never mind if it’s not my best writing, never mind if I get all the details right. Just get the plot line laid out. Once the climax is in sight, the magic will take over and I’ll run, leap, fly to the scintillating conclusion! (I hope).

 

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I’ve said it before, and think it every day — plotting is hard. This novel, like my others, contains elements of the supernatural, but it’s set in the real world, which means I can’t routinely invoke magic to get things done. I have to pay attention to details like distances between real places, modes of transportation, weather, and technology circa 1962.

I have no problem writing scenes I find compelling. They arrive fully formed in the cranial inbox. All I have to do is sit down and render the mental pictures into prose. Then I go crazy trying to stick them together in a coherent sequence without resorting to tedious glue-like (i.e., boring) prose.

The best way is to move directly from one high-interest scene to the next, adding the minimum of transition text, just what’s needed to avoid confusion. I’m going to do that! If more glue is needed, I’ll apply it in Draft #2.

Then there’s the plausibility issue. I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but it’s amazing how easy it is to lay aside logic and reason to get my characters into the situations I’ve planned for them. I have to keep asking myself, “Why?” Why would she decide to leave Situation A and seek out Situation B? Why would something of vital importance in Chapter 3 become totally irrelevant in Chapter 7? If the answer is something like, “Well, it just has to happen, because they have to be in the…” it’s back to the Plot Plan and Character Profiles scribbled in blunt pencil on the back of a piece of junk mail.

Keep slogging! The ground seems to be rising a bit here. The crisis and climax will soon emerge over the horizon.

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The scene of the WIP: west bank of the Nile, near Luxor. (Image from Pixabay)

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3 Reasons Why You Need to Finish Your Writing Project

At the 2/3 point through a first draft that’s getting to be a tough slog I found this inspiring. Writers, read this before you think about quitting!

Knowledge is Power

Have you ever wondered why starting a project can be so full of ideas, motivation, focus, and commitment, only to later on land into an overwhelming state of pressure, agonizing middle, and a completely dispirited end? This scenario occurs more often than not, and am moved to refer to it as the curse of the writer.

Stumbling blocks characterize almost all writing projects, so badly in some situations that they completely disorient what was once a comprehensive research, sleepless nights, sincere effort, and immense sacrifice, just to name a few. Ranging from lack of time, family issues, writers block, running out of ideas to fear of rejection, stumbling blocks can easily lead to an incomplete and stagnated end.

Every writer’s desire is to start writing a book or an article, and most importantly to finish it. Here are 3 reasons that should make you reconsider completing your project.

  1. You Owe…

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What is an Athanor?

And what is one doing in the title of my blog?  (Not any more — in July 2013 I changed the title, eliminating the athanor, but it’s still there in spirit, keeping up the ferment of creativity).

The OED offers this definition: “A self-feeding digesting furnace used by the alchemists, capable of maintaining a steady heat for long periods.”

This is what one needs for anything that needs patience and persistence, such as gardening and writing novels. The fact that it derives from alchemy intrigues me also, because alchemy is such a great metaphor for transformations of all kinds, both physical and metaphysical.

Gardening is alchemy. So is writing.

I first discovered alchemy in the writings of Mircea Eliade, when I was doing research for a paper in university. More recently, alchemical ideas found their way into the novels of my Herbert West trilogy, in which an amoral scientist is transformed into a healer with supernatural powers. Alchemy appears in these novels both explicitly and implicitly. Charles Milburn, a principal character in the first and third books, studies alchemical texts and becomes interested in the subject. At the same time, the stories themselves parallel some of the alchemical processes of dissolution, decay, calcination, conjunction, rebirth and transformation.

When I began this blog, the image of the athanor seemed quite apt, since it’s meant to be a generator of ideas on writing (and gardening), requiring patience, persistence and a steady heat of enthusiasm.  A Philosophical Furnace, indeed!

This is what an Athanor looks like.