Reader, I am frustrated. It’s about the MG book I’ve been working on for a while now that is based on two of my plays. “A while” here meaning a period of time impossible to properly quantify as I originally spent a year writing what I realized was actually Book 2 before I got the story started in the right place.
The problem is the midpoint. What happens before that point? Great. What happens after that point? Also great. But the moment of the midpoint itself is a big freaking mess and I’ve spent the majority of this year writing and rewriting the entire book over and over to try to get it right.
This tweet perfectly sums up my feelings on writing this book right now:
Why can I write plays but not novels whyyyyyyyy pic.twitter.com/f6gNcqv6kC
— Hillary DePiano (@HillaryDePiano) September 18, 2016
Specifically, it comes down to a single section in which MC narrowly escapes Group A, at a great cost, but then ends up with Group B who, at first, seem slightly better but turn out to be much worse. It’s the classic out of the frying pan into the fire that usually happens at the midpoint but despite my best efforts of adding suspense and action, the story comes to a grinding halt for this small scene before a very important event happens with Group B that sends us racing headlong into Act Three and beyond. In terms of story, the moment we’re talking about is only minutes of story time but it’s the lynchpin in setting up everything that goes after and I cannot get it right.
(And when I say the midpoint is the problem, understand that, while that moment is specifically the part that doesn’t work right now, I am under no illusions that it’s the real problem. The real problem is somewhere else and this is just a symptom so I’ve been concentrating on the whole book and especially Act 2 as a whole, looking at what comes before and after the midpoint to figure out where the trouble starts. The true problem is almost always nowhere near the part you noticed is wrong.)
A few months ago, I knew I was close to a solution because no matter how much I changed in the narrative, even if I completely hacked it up and changed absolutely everything, the same scenes I’d already tossed kept reappearing which usually means I’ve almost got it. I tried the brute force method for a long while, mind mapping and trying to change everything up as much as possible to figure out how to make it work. And when I say trying everything, understand that I am not a person who clings to their darlings. I will cut or change absolutely anything if it makes the story better so that time was spent cutting or changing just about everything in an effort to see what worked better. MC saved herself a dozen ways, she had allies from Groups A & B help her out a dozen more, I changed the nature of the trouble she gets into and who she gets into it with a billion ways and never came on anything that felt like it worked.
While some of this tinkering yielded better scenes than what I had originally and resulted in small changes all over the novel, everything kept coming down to the same exact problem area at the midpoint.
So I walked away.
Let it sit, people say, and your brain will work it out. I did that very thing and went to work on other writing things, mostly plays which, for some reason, are still way easier for me to write. In the meantime, I hit the books, reading similar novels to see how others handled their midpoint. I also read books on craft, doing the exercises and teaching myself new ways to write. What I realized from all this study is that the structure of my book is really solid, much more so than anything I’ve ever written before, and that I’m absolutely almost there.
Surely, then, it was time to return to it, especially since real life has set me a deadline where I HAVE to get this book done by the end of the year (really, by the end of October in order to have time for Beta reads and final edits) or I won’t be able to work on it again for a very long time if ever. I meticulously outlined yet another way for Act 2 to happen and went to war with it a week or so ago. I thought I really had it and I was powering through… until I hit that exact same midpoint and, even though almost every single detail before and after was different now than in other drafts, I still hit the exact same freaking part that isn’t working. Which really made it seem like all the work I did in the months in between were for absolutely nothing.
My reaction was pretty much this:
And, honestly, I’m still half there. I’ve already done all my usual fallbacks for when I get stuck for this exact same part without success so I don’t even have that lingering hope that’ll fix it. It’s had plenty of time to “sit” which means it’s back to the good ole brute force method, until I find the way through. Because the problem clearly is deeper than I realize, I can’t even work on editing another part because, until I have this section right, everything is subject to change. Even my usual trick of quitting the problem project for another… which always seems to make the first project get unstuck… isn’t an option because I don’t have time for mind games. I very little time left to finish this book and if I’m going to write it, I have to make it work NOW… somehow.
So the word of the day, Chairy, is frustrated. Frustrated because I know this whole process would be easier if I had chunks of time to write instead of little unpredictable moments of writing time I can snatch here and there. Frustrated because this entire book is the length of The Green Bird which took a fraction of the time to write and edit even with all the research so why the heck is this taking so long? Frustrated because I sacrificed getting The Fourth Orange out on time for Autumn school productions, screwing myself over from a playwriting career standpoint and squandering the momentum from Green Bird, to work on this book and it’s looking like it was all for nothing. And frustrated, most of all, because this book is really freaking important to me and if I don’t get it done now, I may literally never get the chance to write it which sucks on many levels.
While this all sounds very doom and gloom, it isn’t really. I’m not quitting. I owe it to this book to keep banging my head on this proverbial wall until I run out of time. It does mean I need to spend some time with the zoomed out version of this story for a while and hope it shows me the right way through. It means a bunch of frustrating wheel spinning for a while without forward progress when I don’t really have time for that but that’s writing, I guess.
A few days ago, my playwriting group was having a discussion about quitting writing when it stops being fun and this conversation was completely foreign to me. I can’t think of the last time writing was “fun” for me. Maybe summers when I was in elementary school? It’s a job. I have to write stuff on time to get paid. I have to make the words work and that’s WORK, not playing. Sometimes it feels nice and easy and lots of times it’s frustrating as heck and I want to scream but the idea of quitting when it stops being “fun” sounds like you’re talking about playing tag at recess. Most of the time, being a working writer isn’t “fun” just as I imagine merchant bankers and construction workers and everyone else with a job feels about what they do.
I write because I have stories to tell. And I need to tell them regardless of if I’m having fun or not. That’s what passion is, it’s doing something long after the hobbyists have gotten bored and dropped out, because you HAVE to like you HAVE to breathe, even if it is, sometimes, really freaking frustrating.