If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a bit of whining of late. I do it quite well, I have to say. And it always, always happens when I'm in the middle of the book, right before I begin that race to the end. I always think the book sucks. I'm convinced I'm a hack, an amateur, someone who's been playing in the big publishing pond when they shouldn't be. If you searched my archives, you could probably find any number of posts about how my career is over and I'm a fraud. Guarantee they were written when I was in the middle of the book.
Yesterday, when I was whining, someone expressed surprise that a veteran author could feel this way and wondered if there was any hope for those still aspiring to be published. The short answer: YES. The truth is that when you sell a book, you will be thrilled, ecstatic, insanely happy that you have done so. That all this hard work has not been for nothing, and that an editor and a publishing house agree with you that you might have some talent. It's an awesome feeling!
But, it is my sad duty to inform you, that insecure artist that lives inside you will never truly go away. With every book, you'll wonder if you're doing it right. You'll feel like a fraud, a hack, and you'll think your career is over. It may happen for you at the beginning of the book. Or the end. Or the middle. Or not until you've sent the whole perfect thing off to your editor and realize that maybe it's not perfect after all.
The point is, it will happen. If it doesn't, consider yourself lucky. But I've talked to authors I've admired for years, those with over 100 published books and awards enough to build a house out of, and they feel exactly the same. (That was a bit disheartening, let me tell you. I kept hoping this feeling would go away!) Ladies and gentlemen, there are a lot of frauds out there in the publishing world. Or so it would seem if our insecurities were to be believed. :/
All right, I've told you the bad stuff, which is that the insecurity and fear never go away. So how about some good stuff? Though I am still mired in the middle (actually sliding down the hill to the end now), and still feel very fraudulent, I'm going to give you some tips on how to get through the middle of the book syndrome. Consider these Lynn's little guidelines for dealing with the crazy. 😉
1. Remember that, no matter where you are in this dream to write books, there is no correct way to feel when you are writing.
2. If you're a plotter, go have a look at that synopsis again (and if you are a plotter, I have no idea why you'd even feel the crazy at this point; you know what's going to happen in your book! I don't.).
3. If you're a pantser, maybe it's time to try and write a short synopsis of everything that's happened so far and what you feel should or can happen next.
4. If you're really stuck and fighting for every word, maybe it's time to go back and reread the book from the beginning so you can see where you've made a wrong turn or dropped a thread. I often notice that when I can't seem to make progress, it's because my subconscious knows I've left something untended earlier in the book. Maybe I planted the seeds for something to happen and then never had it happen.
5. Take a look at your characters' conflicts. Are they strong enough? Are you using them to their fullest advantage? Are you letting the conflicts drive your characters or are you meandering through the middle because you need words to fill the pages? Conflicts should be multi-layered. You peel back those layers as you go, letting the characters make progress or have setbacks, letting them get to know each other and learn new things about each other. This is the phase where their feelings are growing and changing based on what they learn about each other. This isn't the time for pointless fighting just to keep them at odds!
6. Go read someone else's book. Sometimes, seeing how another author deals with the middle can give you a light bulb moment about your own. I often go look at my own published books to see what I did (and to remind myself that I've done this before and can do it again!). Some people claim they can't read books while writing, and that's fine if that's you. But I find it illuminating. I'm a writer, but I was a reader first and I love to read. I also read heavily in my own line. Because I can't imagine a group of more talented, amazing writers than the Presents writers! I'm always inspired (and sometimes jealous) by the brilliance I read between the pages of a fellow author's book.
7. Whine to a friend. If you have a good friend who doesn't mind listening to you say the same things at the same point in every book, then call him or her up and whine. Or meet for coffee or lunch and have a good whine. I imagine you could whine to any friend, but sometimes a writer might be best. Though I have to admit, the person I most often whine to about my books would be Mr. Harris. And he is most definitely not a writer. But sometimes he has pretty insightful things to say about what I'm working on. Other times he tells me to buck up. 😉
8. Take a break. Deadlines can be harsh, but sometimes you just have to unchain yourself from the computer. Not for days (I sure don't have that leisure!), but maybe for a few hours. Go for a walk. Go for a drive. Meet a friend (see above). Go shopping. Go out for a meal. Just get yourself away from the electronics for a while and let your mind breathe. Often, the solution to a problem can present itself when you aren't focusing solely on the problem. Your mind needs a break. Take one.
9. Remember, above all else, this too shall pass. You're writing a book, not performing brain surgery. There are do overs. If you get it wrong, if you get to the end and it's a mess, it can be fixed. If you have an editor, she's going to tell you what you need to do. If you don't, then give the book to a trusted critique partner or beta reader and see what they think.
10. Just write the darn thing to the end. Write whatever comes to mind. Even if you end up with pages of character meandering, plot threads dropped, new threads picked up, you can fix it. There are times when a book is a lump that needs molding. And sometimes you can't mold it until you have the entire shape of it there (even if it is a lump). I have the most trouble with this one because I have an inner perfectionist streak. I expect the story to be, if not perfect, as close to the final version as I can get it before I send it off to my editor. I expect revisions, but I still feel like I'm failing her if I turn in something that I know will need a lot of revisions. But that is her job! She's not sitting there putting black marks next to my name because I send her something that needs work. So write without fear. Turn off the perfectionist (if you have one) and let the words flow. There ARE do overs! And isn't that a grand thing?
Those are my tips for getting through the middle of the book, such as they are. I'm sure they can be added to, so let me know if you have a tip you'd like to pass on. I can always use another one! And now I'm back to work, slogging through the forest of my imagination and hoping I make it out in one piece. All this to bring you a tortured Russian billionaire baby daddy. I hope you appreciate what I go through for you! 😉
Lynn, I’m always amazed by how honest you are about this business. You make it clear that getting The Call isn’t the end to self-doubt, frustration or the need for patience, but that we each must deal with the milestones and pitfalls as they come along.
I really admire you for so many reasons!
How do I deal with the middle? Sometimes I let it simmer (watch a favorite movie, read, or listen quietly for hints from the muse). Other times I’m climbing uphill all the way. The good news is once you reach the pinacle, it’s all downhill from there. LOL!
Here’s hoping you gain satisfaction by gifting us with a hunky Russian baby daddy soon!
Thank you so much — great tips! @Katherine Bone:
Thank you for speaking out on the writer’s middle insecurities and roadblocks, Lynn! I found myself floundering and there you were with just the thing I needed to hear!
You’re the best! And I can’t wait to read about your “tortured Russian billionaire baby daddy”! : )