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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Mid-Novel Crisis

It happens to even the best of us: halfway through the novel you're writing, you get sick of it.  You hate it.  There's another shiny new idea that sounds like so much more fun.  You're bored and disillusioned with your novel.  You wonder why you even started it in the first place, and you just know it's not worth finishing.

(Okay, sometimes this happens at the one-third mark.  But for now, we'll keep calling it the "mid-novel crisis".)

It just keeps spiraling from there.  You start to wonder why you're even writing anything.  You wonder why you even exist.  You wonder why anything even exists.  You wonder why existence is even a thing.  You wonder if it is a thing at all.

It goes in stages.  Remember the five stages of grief from health class in middle school?  Yeah, it's like that.

Stage 1: Denial
No, I can still do this.  If I just keep waiting here, staring at this MS Word document, it'll come to me.  I'll get through it and I'll be fine.  If I just keep staring at this blinking, hypnotic, seizure-inducing cursor...

Stage 2: Anger
Why can't I do this?  I should be able to accomplish a simple little task like finishing this book.  It can't be that hard, can it?  It's just words.  Just letters.  Why am I suddenly so unable to type simple letters?

Stage 3: Bargaining
Alright, fine.  I'll just take a little time off from this book.  I'll just go start another book for a week or so, and then I'll return to the crisis novel.  Maybe my inspiration will return.  Maybe I'll be able to get somewhere with it.  Maybe world hunger will be eliminated and cancer will be cured.

Stage 4: Depression
All I want is to finish this book.  Why can't I finish this book?  Why do my characters hate me so much?  Whyyyyy?  *collapses into corner with entire tub of ice cream*

Stage 5: Acceptance
I am so far beyond caring about this mid-novel crisis that it doesn't even matter anymore.  You know what?  I'm just going to sit here and type asdfjkl; because that's better than nothing.  Isn't it?  It's not better?  Whatever.  I can do this.  There's a wall somewhere in my writing process, and if I just keep crashing into it hard enough, it's bound to fall down sooner or later.

You know it when the crisis hits.  It's when you normally write 500 words an hour, but you've hardly been able to pull off 500 words over the past week.  It's when your characters start acting in unfathomable ways and you start drawing a blank as to who they are.  It's when you have absolutely, positively, no clue where your plot is headed next.  It's when you're here during your writing time.  (Don't think I'm not aware of what you're doing, because I am.)  It's when you wonder what you've gotten yourself into.

The problem is that once the mid-novel crisis hits, it's like you've fallen into this vast canyon of self-doubt, lack of direction, procrastination, and inability to write.  Imagine Hamlet as the main character of The Order of the Phoenix: that's how much angst you feel--especially since the mid-novel crisis tends to bring an existential crisis along with it.  It's hard to write words when every ten minutes your brain goes all "What am I doing here?".

Maybe you came here seeking a way out of the canyon of the mid-novel crisis.  In that case, know that I'm still searching for an effective way out, myself.  In some ways, I think that it happens to everyone, and we all just have to suffer through it until it gets better.

That being said, I'm not at a total loss for pointers.  The best thing you can do is to stick with it.  Don't abandon the novel in favor of another, more awesome idea.  Guess what: it's not more awesome.  It just looks more awesome because the shiny new idea always looks better than your current work-in-progress.  If you start that new novel, you'll end up reaching the same crisis halfway through, and you'll repeat the cycle forever and never learn how to pull yourself out.

 If you're at a loss for plot, do some outlining.  Step back and figure out how you're going to get to your ending.  Plan out every step before jumping back into the fray.  If your characters feel like they're getting more and more distant, pull them back to you with some character forms or an 100 things list.

If your problem is "just writer's block", just...get over it.  I'm not joking.  I'm part of that crowd that doesn't believe in writer's block.  There are words in your brain; use them.  They're words, and they can get you over the stumbling block in your novel.  It doesn't matter how terrible they are.  You'll be able to edit them later.  Get those words onto the paper.  If you have to, use Write Or Die.  Just keep nudging at that block, and it'll eventually move out of the way.

The next time the mid-novel crisis hits, you'll probably go through the cycle.  Maybe you're in the cycle right now.  Either way, know this: you can climb out of it.  It's something that can be overcome.

Have you had an experience with the mid-novel crisis?  How do you get yourself out of it?

PS: You already know what I'm going to say.  BLOG SURVEY.  It's still open!
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