Last week I started a “dilogy” (a lazy trilogy), so this is the second part of Toning The Muffintop: The Flabby Midsection of Your Novel.
Here are three quick tips so we can get right into the meat of it.
- Some people love structuring their whole novel. Some hate it. Some people fall somewhere in the middle. It depends on how you write best, so find what works for you.
- If you get stuck while writing the middle, think of the worst possible thing that could happen to your character, and have some fun with it.
- Think of the middle as three acts instead of one big act. And suddenly the middle isn’t as drawn-out.
I trimmed my advice into those three points. The rest of this blog post is going to be a little different than usual. And a little more vulnerable.
What do I mean by that?
Let me start at the beginning
I’ve been a writer since I was about twelve. I could brag about all the times I’ve been published, but that doesn’t really matter…
What does matter is how I act when it’s difficult. When the words don’t flow. When I don’t want to write. And what’s difficult to admit is that for a period of two years I let fiction writing take a back seat to the everyday mundane routine.
And my creative mind atrophied.
Sure, I write every day for my job in marketing, and creatively at that. That’s helped keep my mechanics and parts of the craft sharp.
But it’s not fiction. That’s different.
About six months ago I decided I needed to rediscover the passion I’ve always had. I thought it would be love at first sight… all over again.
But it’s been more like couples’ counseling.
Overcoming the fear of writing
I would rather comb fleas off an angry King Kong than have someone say, “Your writing is as emotionally moving as a houseplant.”
And for a couple years I allowed myself to be crippled by that fear… the houseplant fear, not the ultra-specific flea-grooming fear.
Not to detract from that terrifying situation.
So I never put pen to the page in fear of the accidental blots that were bound to stain my work. I was sure people would judge me.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I am afraid of failing.
I hate structuring my novels. I’ve told myself for years that I work better when I improvise, or that structure stifles my creative process, or that I don’t want to know where the novel is going – it’s fun that way… but I made that decision out of fear.
I was afraid of not finishing my novel, and if I ran out of direction one day, that would be easier for me to swallow than for me to admit I knew where it was going, but I gave up because I was afraid of failing.
And that fear has held me back.
Every writer faces those fears.
Nobody likes to admit it, though.
Deep down, we’re all still that child scared of monsters lurking under the bed. But to our friends, we want to be seen as a hero with fearsome wooden swords and blanket-capes.
I’m going out on a limb and admitting: deep down I’m still a child afraid of my own shadow.
Writing with courage
Published, not published… that won’t remove the fear. Only recognizing the fear, accepting the fear is there, and addressing it head on.
It’s taken me a while to realize this, but courage is not the absence of fear. It’s pushing forward in the face of fear. I will always be afraid of writing a terrible first draft. It feels like proof that I’m a bad writer.
But I will continue to write terrible first drafts regardless. And then edit decent second drafts. And good third drafts.
I told my friend I would pay him $50 if my novel wasn’t completely structured by noon on Saturday. I can choose to be frozen in fear and be out $50, or I can work my butt off this week.
So it doesn’t matter how many shadows are cast on my wall, I will finish.
Don’t try to figure out how to get rid of fear… that’s impossible. Put something in place that makes you push ahead in the face of fear, and in the face of creative atrophy, and in the face of deadlines.
For me, the push I needed was $50.
And if the motivation is difficult for you, look at this.
If you’d like to structure your story, great. If you’d like to wing it, great.
But if you make that decision based on fear… then I hope King Kong mauls you when you groom his next flea.
Question of the day: Am I alone in my fear?