Fighting the mid-story goblin

For today, THIS.

Anyone who’s ever attempted to write a novel knows about the mid-story goblin. Okay, maybe not necessarily a goblin. Maybe just any sneaky creature that creeps in after the first exhilarating 100 pages or so and makes you realise how incredibly lame and unfeasible and terrible your novel actually is or is going to be. Or any creature that causes your initial enthusiasm to wane, or you to get distracted by a Shiny New Idea. And before you know it, you’re plunging into another new novel and relegating the previous one to the dustiest corner of your drawer, figuratively speaking. And then the lack of planning for your new novel will eventually result in your flagging interest again. And the cycle goes on and you wouldn’t have written anything at all.


I’d be lying if I said I’ve always managed to resist the lure of the Shiny New Idea. Especially for a Libra like me, who easily hops onto a new project, the next story always seems more fun to dive into.

But after abandoning MINT, which I wrote in between BED FULL OF MOONLIGHT and RED DECEMBER SKIES, I decided I couldn’t let myself do it again. It was a cop-out. I chucked the incomplete manuscript, which stood at about 150 pages, and promised myself I’d come back to it one day.

And I did. It took me a couple of years to revisit it, but I eventually put it through a major overhaul, changed the characters, approached it from a new standpoint, and the result was UNTIL MORNING, which I can tell you is vastly different from MINT. Probably about 20 percent of it remained; the rest got a makeover.

What Cassandra Clare said is completely true: “It’s easy in the beginning. The book idea is fresh and new and the characters seem appealing and the story is one you want to tell. Then you dig in and round about chapter four or five you start realizing that nothing is happening, or that what your characters are doing doesn’t make any sense, or that you’re telling the whole story from the wrong point of view.

“At that point the characters and story stop feeling fresh and new and shiny. They have become problematic. They are no longer the lovely new sweater hanging in the closet that you can’t wait to wear, but are instead the wrinkly old sweater that has soup on it that you should probably take to the dry cleaner. And you want nothing more than to take the whole project and bin it and start a new project that seems like fun, because now you are not having any.”

But then that is where the challenge comes in. And really, where’s the fun in writing when there’s no challenge? As you reach the saggy middle, as it is often called, where the action flags and your characters start to behave a little robotically, like two-dimensional characters moving about on the page at your whim, that’s when it’s up to you as the writer to keep up not only the interest of the reader you have in mind as you write, but also your own. It’s up to you to power through the sticky, gooey, limpid writing to reach the other side of that puddle.

And really, once you force yourself to get past that, the rest becomes easier. Not a breeze, mind you, but at least breezier than the 100 pages or so in the middle. I had to rip out a bunch of pages from BLOOD PROMISE and ultimately push a scene to the end and make it the climax before things clicked into place and I could finally stop thinking that it sucked.

So how do you make yourself stick with your novel to the very end?

Like what Cassandra Clare said: “Determination. Some things take hard work and determination to complete; novels are one of those things.”



Because really, it’s YOUR novel. It’s the story you believed in enough to want to write it. Don’t you want to see it to the end?

And I think this is what I love most about writing novels. The immense payoff at the end. Not in monetary terms (heck, no), but the intangible satisfaction of reaching the end, of having created and completed a project after months of slaving away, persisting and subsisting on hope and passion (and adrenaline and agony and copious amounts of green tea). There’s nothing quite like it, this sense of achievement. I’ve embarked on projects and written articles for newspapers and magazines, but nothing really beats putting together that final sentence of a novel or seeing your book in print and having people text you to ask about what happened to a particular character in the end.

I know a lot of people, particularly my dad, think writing is a hobby and that I should focus on achieving something career-wise. But I’ve never felt so fulfilled as I had – and still do – after writing a book. Seeing my first byline, while gratifying, didn’t come close. Nor did finishing a paper for school or getting an A for a module. I’d like to think that I might possibly find a job that fulfills me as much as creative writing does, but as of now I’ve yet to find it. For now and the foreseeable future, fiction writing will always be my first love and being a bestselling author will always be my ultimate goal in life, career-wise.

And for those of you who think writing a book is easy, you won’t understand the hard work that goes into finishing one unless you go through it yourself. It takes A LOT of discipline and a very firm belief in your story (or masochistic inclinations, depending on how you see it) to complete a book.

“… just because something is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t fun,” says Cassie Clare. “There’s fun to be had even in the slogging bits. Because inspiration, when it does come, doesn’t come from outside of you. It comes from the work that you do, from the process itself. So the truth is, you don’t need to be inspired to write. But you do need to write to be inspired.”

 

There’s never been a question of NOT writing for me. It’s just not something you can decide to stop doing. I write to make sense of the world, to find a place in it, to be heard, to find something in common with my readers. And I’m always going to do this because – not to be corny or over-dramatic – to stop writing feels like it’s to stop living.

So since I’m going to do this, I will see each project through to the very end. All or nothing, as they say.

At least, all this is what I tell myself. Until the next Shiny New Idea comes along.

(Wow, that was a long post. Sorry if it got a little heartfelt. If you managed to read all the way to this line, here’s a huge pat on the back for you.)

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