For an idea junkie (like myself) who owns stacks upon stacks of spiral-bound notebooks filled with scenarios for new books, nothing is as exciting—or even really as satisfying—as starting a new novel. I’m not sure even endings are quite as satisfying as sinking my teeth into a brand-new idea, getting my first few thoughts down on paper.
About fifty pages in, though, when the book is set up—the main characters have all been introduced, major plotlines established—that sluggish middle comes along. This is the point at which an idea junkie can start thinking of all sorts of new scenarios—can imagine the thrill of starting a new book all over again. Actually, this was my biggest downfall when I was a newbie full-time author back in ’01…I’d start one book, only to get to that awful, saggy middle, then fall in love with a new idea, and head off on a separate tangent.
But I’ve stumbled onto a new technique that helps with middles: treat them like beginnings.
I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the reasons middles can be so maddening, so—well, intimidating—is that I always absolutely fall in love with my beginnings. I slave over my beginnings, until each new book promises to be the best thing I’ve ever written. And now, here comes the middle, threatening to make me lose my steam, or let this unique new voice peter out. The middle threatens to undo those incredible opening chapters. It’s only natural to want to protect a fantastic beginning…As counter-intuitive as it sounds, when I was starting out, I think I tried to protect my beginnings by avoiding the middle entirely (in other words, start a new project).
These days, I never allow myself to think I’ve ever hit the middle. Each new chapter is treated as a free-write, as though I’m beginning my book—day one, page one. As I draft a new scene (which I’ve planned and plotted ahead of time), I also let myself brainstorm, inventing backstory, new anecdotes, histories. I write long descriptions, notes to myself, sometimes even let my characters talk to each other on a subject that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. But I never censor myself, in the way I didn’t censor myself when I was drafting the beginning. And it all counts toward my daily word count goals—even those notes to self.
This exploratory writing really does keep a book feeling fresh—I never assume I already know all I need to know about my characters or plot. I discover something new every day.
As I draft my latest book, I’m letting my characters come increasingly clearer as the pages stack up—keeping that day one feeling alive, even though I’m knee-deep in that dreaded middle…