Saturday, 8 February 2014

When Your Middle-Aged Novel Has a Mid-Life Crisis

I am now officially (well, okay then, mathematically if I maintain the illusion that I can see into the future) halfway through Draft Two of The Renegades. Yep, fifty percent done. Who'd a thunk it?

It's okay, I'm not asking anyone to hang up the balloons or book the band. I realise, in the grand scheme of everything, that this news is basically some writer you've never heard of getting halfway to achieving something most writers you have heard of have already done, several times over. Unlike the gazillions (it sometimes seems) of self-publishing authors who are banging out novels and novellas with the regularity of a person on the Stewed Prune Diet, I am taking a ridiculously long time to push out even just this one (is two years already a ridiculously long time?)

This is the paragraph where my excuses would normally go, but I'm not going to bother this time, because I'm pretty sure they're all Pollock-spattered through many of my previous posts and I'm even starting to bore myself with them now, so there's no reason to bore everyone else as well. If I want this novel to be as good as I can make it, it'll take as long as it takes and that's the way it is. There. Defiant Battle Retort over.

However, what the aforementioned milestone actually means is that I am now ears-deep in that sticky quagmire of the novel they call The Middle Zone. The bit where the whole thing is in danger of sagging, dragging and just generally going horribly tits-up, according to accepted wisdom.

Theoretically, since I'm on Daft Two, I've already done this bit before so it shouldn't be a problem. And it wouldn't be... if my Draft Two looked anything like my Draft One. I'm still telling the same story in both... but the two drafts are only alike in the way that Sally the Sensible Office Clerk is still Sally the Sensible Office Clerk after ten Jager Bombs and a 2am kebab. So yeah, this is a second-time-around Middle Zone - and it's harder this time because it's not the glorious, just-get-it-all-down brain fart that is the typical first draft.

Like a middle-aged person, my middle-aged novel is in danger of acquiring flabby bits that head south at the slightest hint of gravity. Of getting tired and cranky more quickly. Of marching into a room full of purpose - and then promptly forgetting why it was going there in the first place. I'll admit I've even started to see signs of a developing mid-life crisis; it's trying to hang out with novels half its age to prove it's still 'got it' (i.e. I've wondered more than once if  it could fit into the YA genre; some of the subject matter and a quick tally-up of f-bombs dropped by my characters answered that with a resounding 'no.')

I suppose it's to be expected. Again, like a middle-aged person, the middle bit of a novel can end up feeling like the under-appreciated workhorse of society; the one who does the lion's share of the hard work and gets very little of the glory. In the great 'How-To's of novel-writing, everyone talks about how important it is to have a brilliant beginning and a stonkingly great end, and those are the bits people often cite when talking about what elevates a story from 'good' to great.' The middle bit is just expected to be well-written enough to guide the reader between the two; if it is everyone takes it for granted, but if it isn't... ooh, that's the reason the entire book fails. The Middle Bit is too old to be considered sexy and exciting like the Beginning, and too young to be revered for its wisdom like the End. No wonder it often has a massive sulk and dreams about driving around in a two-seater sports car listening to that rappity-hop music the youths like these days...

So perhaps the answer is for me to treat the middle of my novel like a middle-aged person having a mid-life crisis - or at least try and empathize with its confusion and cut it a little slack sometimes. Remind it on regular occasions that yes, it really is an important part of the whole story and yes, I will devote as much love and attention to it as I give to my hot young beginning and wise old ending. And accept that, because of its moods and occasional hot flushes, I'm going to have to work to its schedule, rather than trying to bully it to march to mine. Writing, rewriting, then rewriting some more. It'll be done when it's done.

Yes, it will baffle me, drive me up the wall and embarrass the bum off me at regular intervals. It's already started doing that.  But, like a husband or a relative, I still love it and I know it'll get over itself eventually, given enough time to work through all its issues.

Although if it starts copping off with other novels, it will get its ass kicked...

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