by Linda Rodriguez
Right now, I’m in the middle of a book. Actually, I’m usually in the middle of writing a book or about to finish a book or about to begin a book. It’s the cycle of life for writers, especially novelists. The middle of the book, though, is the hardest because it’s where it all begins to break down or bog down or seems to. I know of very few writers who haven’t faced despair, or at least mild depression, somewhere in the middle of the book.
That brilliant idea that sent me excitedly to the keyboard to start this journey of words seems further away from actuality than ever. It’s very hard work to try to get it on paper and make the reality the reader will find on the page match up to the beauty of the idea in my head—and of course, none of us ever quite manage it. That’s part of the reason why we keep trying.
Right now, though, I’m struggling as I try not to drown or suffocate in all the thousands of words I’ve typed and continue to type, which seem more and more shabby and mundane—and very far from that shining thing in my head that I’m trying to make real on the page. I’m tired and overwhelmed. And I just want someone to come take this magnificent idea and make the book for me. Isn’t it enough coming up with such a grand concept?
For a moment, I revert to the childlike person who approaches writers so often to say, “I’ve got a great idea! You can take it and write it up into a book, and we’ll split the profits.” We writers shudder when such people come around, not wanting to insult them with the truth—“You want me to do all the work and share my money with you?”—or—“Buddy, getting the idea’s the easy, fun part.” But at this stage of the book, I have brief stressed moments of the same kind of magical thinking.
I turn to some of my favorite writers at times like this.
“It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.” – P.D. James
“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight... it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it.” – Annie Dillard
“One word after another. That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.” – Neil Gaiman
I go back to the mess of a manuscript because that shining, brilliant edifice in my head will never become real to anyone else if I don’t slog through the swamp of the middle and get it down on paper. And I hope that some little sliver of its real gorgeous beauty somehow ends up sparkling on the pages of the finished book. Never enough of it, of course, because that’s the impossible dream that all we writers chase, but some small gleaming piece.
If any of you are facing the same situation, please realize that it’s pretty universal among those of us who try to write novels. We know we can’t recreate that perfection on the page, but we have to give it our best shot. Because even our imperfectly realized vision is still something only we can give the world. To quote Neil Gaiman again, “Do what only you can do best.”
REPLY TO COMMENTS (because Blogger hates me):
Thanks, Cathy! We've finished books before, so we know we can finish these. Don't we? ;-)