I’m writing a book.
I’m always writing a book. In fact, I’m always writing several books, each one at a different stage. One or more are ideas in my head; one is at the planning stage; one is first draft; one at an advanced second/third draft; one requires a final polish; and one is with my agent (I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying that).
When I’m talking about the process, I always tell people how much I love every single stage of it, and that’s mostly true — but there is one part of the process that I hate beyond words, and that is the middle part of the first draft. No matter how well I plot, or in his much detail, there always comes a point where I don’t know what to write but I daren’t stop, because if I do I’ll never start again. It’s like dancing with the Devil.
I think this is why the concept of word racing works so well. You set your target and I, being target-driven, always get there. Every November I “enter” National Novel Writing Month (NANoWriMo) and every November I “win”, usually completing 50k words within a week.
Yet somehow I can’t do this at any other time. I’ve written about the boggy middle of my books elsewhere — that middle third where the plot doesn’t fit together the way I thought it would and the characters go off and do their own thing, so that the second half of the book bears no resemblance to the first.
Writing that middle third is hard. The opening is easy, with the setup and the back story, introducing the characters and finding a hook. The final third is great, too, as the pace picks up and lives are on the line. (I write crime.) But the middle third is grim. It’s a hand-to-hand fight, a battle with every syllable, every word, every sentence, and it’s a battle that you can’t give up.
In the middle third I hate what I’ve written. The writing is poor, very rushed. Chunks of what I’ve already written are no longer relevant and that the later parts of the plot have nothing to do with it. New characters appear and I know nothing about them, but in order to keep the plot going I write them anyway and they are superficial, inconsistent and not credible. Plot twists emerge from nowhere. They refer to incidents that have taken place in the early part of the plot that are missing from the early part of the draft. A character’s backstory suddenly changes because the plot doesn’t work if they spent last year abroad. That sort of thing.
I’ve been through that fight this week, and it was miserable. When I finally got through it, I looked back and realised that it’s dreadful, full of square brackets in which I shout at myself to GO BACK AND ADD A BIT EARLIER or even THIS DOES NOT WORK! But the first draft is always dreadful. And, crucially, with a lot of work it’s always fixable.
Did I ever tell you how much I love editing?