The Middle (Or How I Avoided Writing)

While EVERGREEN is still in the Query trenches, I’m still working on “Haven’t Found The Title Yet.” Now I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m trying to take advantage of recovering from surgery to get as much writing in as I can. I suppose that makes me an unofficial NaNo participant. (In other words: There’s no way I’ll hit the 50,000 word mark during Nov. Following doctors orders to limit what I do for now.)

Today, though, I kind of hit a wall. I’m at that crucial point, the part of the story that makes you wonder why you started writing this MS in the first place. I’ve set up my characters, introduced the MC’s goals, created conflict, set the Inciting Event in motion. And now, where am I? That scary bugger of a beast called THE MIDDLE.

Being a pantser by nature makes THE MIDDLE even more frightening. I have a plot outline, know where the story is going to turn and I have a point of no return in mind. It’s all there in my head. The question is, how to get there from where I am.

If you’re in the same boat, sadly, I can offer you no advice.

What I can do is tell you what I did today to avoid the Big Bad Middle.

1. I slept late because I have a raging cold and I need the rest. (How can I write when I’m siiiiiick? My head is too congested to think properly.)

2. While flopping around in the bed to get the correct distribution of gunk in my head that will allow me to breathe, I briefly considered making my MC get the flu. Decided against it as I don’t want to gross my readers out.

3. I finally got up out of the bed because I depleted my within-reach tissue supply.

4. I had to check my email, Facebook, and Twitter feeds. What? Something important could have happened during the course of my Nyquil-induced coma.

5. During this very important search for the latest news, I discovered that it’s Veteran’s Day so THANK YOU TO ALL WHO SERVE; I had a moment of sheer panic when Norman Reedus tweeted that he’s getting his hair trimmed today; Also, I can get a large one-topping pizza for only $8.99,

6. I take the Buzzfeed “How Well Do You Remember The Walking Dead, Season 1?” quiz. Because, I HAVE TO  KNOW IF I REMEMBER EVERYTHING. I scored 18/19. “I’m a hero. I’m ready to lead the team!” (I’m telling ya kids, stick with me in the Zombie Apocalypse.)

6.1  *Convinces self it’s ONLY A TRIM*

7. I opened my WIP, read through the last scene I wrote. Not bad, Collins. Not bad. But I wondered if I needed a little more authenticity. RESEARCH!!

8. Fourteen rabbit holes later, I have determined I don’t really need to know the exact dates of Bluefin Tuna fishing season in Maine after all.

9. Tissues. I need more tissues.

10. I tell myself to stop stalling and write. BICHOK. (Butt In Chair, hands On Keyboard for those not in the know.) What I wrote is turning out to be one of my favorite scenes in the book thus far.

There’s really no moral to this story other than to KEEP WRITING. Even when it’s hard, keep writing. Don’t let THE MIDDLE defeat you. Slay it with a sword (or crossbow). Work yourself through until you see the light of THE END.

A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

I’m still in post-retreat mode, so I’m going to talk a little bit more about the after effects of the retreat.

As I mentioned last week, not only did we benefit from some informative sessions on craft, but also from professional critiques from an agent and an editor as well. I came away from those professional meetings with some advice on ways to change parts of my story to make it more marketable to agents/publishers. Who doesn’t want that, right?

The thing is, I love EVERGREEN and I’m so emotionally connected to the main character that is just hard for me to rip in there and throw those changes in without giving it a lot of thought. I’ve revised this manuscript a few times and I believe in it. The hard part is trying to decide whether or not to keep it as is or follow (the almost conflicting) advice of two professionals.

So, EVERGREEN is on the shelf while I ruminate on my notes and wait for the responses to the queries I still have out. Putting the manuscript I had been working on for over a year on temporary hiatus was difficult, but necessary. I felt a little defeated because this story that I love so much hasn’t managed to capture the heart of an agent yet. Perhaps there’s more to be done? Perhaps I just haven’t queried the right agent yet? Both of those questions were heavy in my heart and mind at the retreat. And they still are.

But I happened to have packed my Harry Potter “Fawkes the Phoenix” shirt for the retreat. As I put it on the last day of the retreat, it became a representation of how I was feeling. What’s a writer to do while waiting for responses or revisions or the creative muse to strike?

Duh, write.

The idea of a phoenix rising from the ashes became my symbol, my mindset, my way to let Frankie go again, at least for a little while, and create something new from the ashes.

To do that, I purposefully did a few things. First of all, I had to leave Frankie’s head and get into the head of the MC in my new story. That’s hard, but considering how different these characters and stories are, I found it refreshing to speak a new POV. My new MC is confident, determined, interested in facts—completely in contrast to Frankie’s inability to see her own value, insistence in believing what she is told, and being heavily tied to her emotions. I’m personally looking at the world through different eyes and I love what I am seeing. Writing her is fun! I gave her a particular quirk that comes through in her voice. It’s unique to her and as I write her now, I find that quirk coming more and more naturally to me. In fact, I had to delete some of her voice from this post as I wrote. The way she thinks is in my head now, fighting to get out and tell me how to approach things.

Secondly, I made a new pre-writing music playlist. My EVERGREEN playlist is dark, gritty, and hard—Imagine Dragons, AWOLNATION, Skillet, 30 Seconds to Mars, The Fray. It matches the tone of the story and contains songs specific to the characters in it. My new playlist? Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, Snow Patrol, Artist vs. Poet, One Direction. (DO NOT MOCK ONE DIRECTION. Boy Bands are cool.) Those songs match the tone of my new MS which is more quirky, contemporary, lighter, but still packed with emotion.  Letting those new songs speak to me helps me focus on the new MS. It sets the mood before I write.

Then I went from green to blue. It’s a little thing, probably something that most people would find OCD or just plain odd, but for me, it helped. I use a white board for notes and plotting. Sometimes when I’m trying to figure out a name or plot or scene I will write all of the choices on my board, live with them a while, then pick the one that keeps standing out to me. When I wrote EVERGREEN, the marker I used was green. Now, I’m using a blue marker. It’s a visual reminder that I am in another world and in another head.

My little tricks are helping cope with leaving Frankie behind temporarily. I’m energized to be writing a new “contemporary” Sci-Fi story. One of the best transitions though, is my writing muse, Yoda—who was there every day to remind me that it wasn’t easy for Frankie to be green—is now there reminding me of my new MC’s obsession with Sci-Fi. There he is every day, a tiny green cheerleader bridging the gap from one story to the next.

My Yoda

Helps me too, he does.