Middle Page Spread

There’s been a significant gap in my blog posts lately (though I’ve yet to beat the previous record of thirty-four years, between my birth and setting up the thing), and it’s been down to a few things. Firstly, after my podcast was published, I spent quite a lot of time trying to spread the word, which worked very well. I now have over twice the Twitter followers than before the recording, and I now have twice as many book recommendations from each and every one of them, because they all want me to read their new novel.

That leads me into the second, more obvious reason for my delay: it was all a bit of a comedown after that. Realising not only how much work is required to publicise my work even though we’re in the middle of the most unprecedented time for free communication in history was a hell of a shock, and added to this I’ve seen that even if I had a concrete product that was polished enough to sell, I would be shouting along with tens of thousands of others, all of whom are convinced that their story about the ditzy secretary and the hired farmhand is the tale Chaucer would have sold his fat bastard robe to have written. But they have my total respect. They've all finished, thus earning the right to try and sell me their work.

I’m not the only writer that’s been guilty of procrastination, but I may be the most creative with my excuses. This time, it was put down to laptop fatigue, but in the past I’ve had some doozies: waiting for a parcel to be delivered and couldn’t take the chance that I’d be interrupted, like a Black Country version of Coleridge; next door’s dog was howling half the night so I was tired; my iPod had the German version of a Kraftwerk album instead of the English and it put me off; my leg hurt.

The only way to finish is to keep writing. Even when you hate what you’ve written and what you’ve planned, there’s no way out. You’re in the middle of a maze of your own creation, and there are two things you can do – stay right there until it withers and dies, or try and find your way out. Usually, you get stuck on the simplest of things: a knot in the plot there, an unfamiliar voice here. Sometimes a character or a subplot appears and it changes the whole thing. It never stopped the producers of Dallas.

The reason for most procrastination is a saggy middle. I’ve spent most of my life with one, so I know how unattractive it is. The middle of the story – the meat of it all – is the most important bit, because how many books have you put aside just as you start to drift off? Most of the time, nothing exciting happens in the middle; the introduction has the characters, the inciting incident and that getting to know you charm, while the ending is where the explosions happen. If you show too much at the start of your book, there’s nothing to keep you guessing while you work your way through the plot. And it doesn’t matter how big the bang you’re keeping for the final chapters if everyone’s stopped reading.

Most people who say they’ve got a great idea for a book rarely make it to their own middle, because that great idea is like a firework: you have a fizz and a bang and then it’s gone. The middle is for those of us who’ve done our time in the trenches and got the scars. We have to keep going even though it seems completely pointless.

So jump into it. I’m not suggesting huge plot overhauls, though if you change your mind about something, NEVER GO BACK. Carry on as though your new plot point or character quirk has always been there. Your story never goes out in first draft form, and you can go back and iron out that plot wrinkle in subsequent drafts. If you stop writing to make your first efforts sparkle, you'll never finish.

Try and entertain yourself. Make your middle the second act- it can have an inciting incident and a small explosion of its own. Keep yourself entertained and you’ll rattle along. And that torturous chapter you can’t get past? Write a really crap version of it. That procrastination is a dam caused by that thing you can’t quite grasp; kick at it and you’ll find it’s made of sticks. And bracken. But if you come away with a broken foot, you may want to consider retraining at night school, or abandoning. There’s no shame in it.

I write on, past my horrible chapter, towards the bright light of my denouement. I dream of a big pile of paper that starts with Chapter One and finishes with ‘The End’. If it doesn’t exist, you’re wasting your talent. Working off the saggy middle is one of those talents, and if I was better at it, my book would be fatter and I’d be much, much thinner.


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