Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Mushy Middle. Otherwise known as Driving through Texas

Ah, the mushy dark sprawling space that is the middle of a novel. If you’re plodding along writing your certain number of words a day, you’ll inevitably reach the point where you are halfway to somewhere. The problem is you still might not know where you’re going. You may not remember where you’ve been. You’re wondering if you should stop, turn around, forget this trip. Maybe go someplace else.

Writer Laraine Herring says that writing a novel is a lot like driving through Texas. You’ve got a long way to go to reach the border, but if you keep driving, you’ll eventually get there. I’ve never driven through Texas. I’ve never even been to Texas, but I have driven from one corner of Tennessee to the other corner and I know that takes a long time, so I trust Laraine’s metaphor.

One of the nice things about signing up to do National Novel Writing Month is they send you these cool inspirational emails from authors who’ve been there in the trenches. Today’s was from one of my favorite young adult novelists, John Green. He was trying to be inspirational, but he started by lamenting about how hard it is to keep writing when you’ve reached the middle of your book:

“Why do I quit halfway in? I get tired. It's not fun anymore. The story kind of sucks, and it's hard to sit down every day and spend several hours eating from a giant bowl of suck. And most of all, like the kid who spends hours preparing plastic armies for war, I enjoy setting things up more than I enjoy the battle itself. To finish something is to be disappointed. By definition, abandoned novels are more promising than completed ones.”

I hear you, John. The story in my head is always a million times better than the one that gets put on paper. Unfortunately, the story in my head doesn’t exist. And it never will exist if I don’t keep writing it. John Green’s pep talk does eventually get peppier and he ends by reminding us that Robert Frost once said: “The only way out is through.” Now that I think about it, Robert Frost was brilliant. He wrote poems. Which would be more like driving through Rhode Island.

But I’m still driving through Texas. Tumbleweeds are blowing around in the desert alongside my car. (This is me, imagining Texas, because I’ve never actually been there.) I see a lot of cactuses (cacti? too). The road stretches off into the horizon. There’s one gas station ahead and it’s only got one fuel pump working. But that’s really all need. And maybe some snack food and coffee.

I’ve made it this far. No way am I turning back.


  1. Ha ha! I enjoyed this post, Jody. Driving through Texas is a great analogy, even though I've never driven through Texas. I imagine it must be a lot like driving through Nebraska (which I have driven through), only worse. Yep, it's always easier to quit but then that's such a waste of time and effort.

    Writing a poem can be real tough too, but usually the beginning and end are on one page. Writing a poem is more like doing a puzzle and getting all the pieces to fit without forcing them. Anyhow, keep on!

  2. thanks Stella. I used to write poetry too--back in grad school. just as consuming and lots of work, but the one page aspect of it makes it a little easier to deal with. But then again I've never driven across Rhode Island either, so who am I to say?