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Slow Dancing in the Dark: How to Avoid Giving Up on Writing Your Book

Your Novel In 13 Weeks, Part Nine. A temptation you must resist.

Sarah Hoyt


May 7, 2013 - 3:30 pm
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Am I doing this right? Do I look drunk? Is he a vampire?

You have your killer opening; you’ve polished it nicely. At least if you’re like me, you can’t help polishing a bit every time you look at it. You’re now fifty pages in, and everything seems to be going too slow, and you’ve lost track of where you were going, and you start to panic and think you’re doing it wrong.

This happens whether you are a plotter and had everything exquisitely planned in advance, or you’re flying by the seat of the pants and have no clue what actually works.

Once you have the first few pages of the book ready, and you are aimed more or less in the direction you will go, you start feeling everything went wrong and the idea you had to begin with is completely impracticable, and… and… and…

Keep calm and carry on. Take deep breaths. The experience you’re having is uncomfortable but completely normal. It’s sort of like having a root canal. Just because it’s unpleasant doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Trust me.

What is happening at the psychological level is that you’ve now set yourself on one course to write your novel, and part of you – you know, the part that thought writing should be a really exciting adventure – is sitting back there going: “What? This is all there is? This is not fun.”

It’s bad enough if you’re making it up as you go along, because you can just have the nagging feeling something has gone wrong, and not know what.

It’s worse if you’re an outliner, as you might have had that opening happening much faster. Writing an outline is much like dancing would be if there were no gravity. You can make your character do anything and – because it’s impossible to plot all those details without making the outline longer than a novel – you don’t know what the opposition is doing precisely.

Then you come to write, say, a jail-escape scene, and gravity hits you with a thud. Your character can’t do that unless you wish to make the opposition almost comic-opera stupid. So you have to make her escape more difficult, every step more negotiated.

The bad news is that at this point, you can’t tell. All of us professional novelists have read a third or a half of a novel we started long ago and put down unfinished and thought, “How in heaven’s name did I think this made a good beginning?”

On the other hand, we’ve also all read beginnings we abandoned long ago and thought, “Wow, this is really, really good. Yes, I am better now, but this has sparkle and life, and pulls me right in.”

The problem here is that when you’re less than a third (I’m less than a fifth) into a novel, you truly can’t judge it. Worse, the friends who normally read stuff for you also won’t be able to tell you if it’s any good or not.

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All Comments   (3)
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My very best beta reader for a while was a woman co-worker, who loved the series of stories I was writing about women in the military - she liked the characters and the situation, and had all kinds of positive suggestions, many of which I didn't take - because they gave me better ideas about where to go and what to do with the characters. Alas, that was several jobs ago and we've lost touch.
My other best beta reader was my late father, contra the rule about family members being bad beta readers because they automatically like and approve everything you write. Not so with Dad - he was great with technical stuff, and fantastically informative about anything to do with botany and geography.
Sigh - I am still looking for a good beta reader...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Beta readers, like other sorts of reviewers, can be an asset, but they can also be a liability. If your reader / reviewer fails to read with the depth of attention to detail required by your story, he'll disserve you. This is particularly important regarding books with complex plots, where a good grasp of the details and a good memory for them are essential to the comprehension of the wind-up.

I've been there, fairly recently. A "friendly" reader allowed a long period to lapse in the middle of reading one of my novels, and completely failed to grasp the logic of the climax. All I could say in reply to him was "Thank you;" after all, his lapse in the middle of my book might have been my fault, despite his protestations that he was "just too busy." It's just one of the hazards involved -- and one more likely than most others to set you on the wrong trail.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I light saint candles to you.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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