Thursday, April 01, 2010

Most of the book is the middle - Cheryl St. John

Research on long-term space flights reveals that astronauts experience the most physiologically difficult leg of their journey at the midway point. The travelers reported more lethargy, irritability and homesickness halfway through the mission. Comparing it to the journey of writing a book, I can see that it’s because the initial excitement has abated, and yet home isn’t yet within sight.

You’ve probably been on a long car trip with children. Which stretch would you say was the most difficult? No, really, you have to pick ONE. The middle perhaps? You probably had to come up with some creative ideas to keep your kids from killing each other and to save your sanity. Again, sort of like the middle of the book.

Everything after chapter three until you reach the black moment and resolution is the middle. You spent three chapters introducing your characters, setting up the conflict, creating a dynamic hook, showing your setting, hinting at the backstory and teasing the reader with the promise of this adventure. That’s a whole lot of finesse and fine-tuning and planning and execution. And now, you’ve walked into a gray area/the twilight zone/the unknown and perhaps even uncharted center of the story. :::gulp:::

Here’s where self-doubt raises its ugly head. You’re the one who’s going to have to tune out those doubts and do some self-talk.

What if this is a fluke?
Then you haven’t really tried or given yourself a chance. You’re allowing fear to stifle you.

What if I can’t really do this?
What if you can? All the techniques of writing are learnable. The storytelling gift is one you’ve been given, and you have the desire is inside you or you wouldn’t be doing this. The only one who will stop you is you.

What if it’s not good?
Congratulations. You don’t think every word you write is gold. And you’re willing to be coached. You will succeed with that attitude.

What if no one ever wants to publish it?
If you never sold anything you wrote, would you still want to write? Is it a desire you can’t turn your back on? Taking classes and writing are more than many people ever accomplish. There are plenty who like the IDEA of being a writer, but not the work involved. Those willing to do the work are those more likely to sell, obviously.

Nobody has a crystal ball revealing your future in publishing. Believe in yourself and have a positive attitude. If you submit something and turn around and say, “I hope I get rejected quickly and get it over with,” you’re shooting yourself in the foot with your attitude.

So you’ve got three chapters all spiffy and shiny. Now what? You’ve just figured out who these people are. Any time during the chapters that follow, you might need to go back to the beginning and adjust for the growing knowledge about your characters. Stay open to their development. But don’t go back and get bogged down in rewriting the beginning because you can’t seem to go forward from the middle.

Speaking from experience here and talking to self: “Yes, you can. Stop whining.”

How many people do you know who have never moved past the beginning of their first book? Or past the beginning of their second book—or third? What is stopping them? Lack of confidence. Fear of failure. Fear of success.

How many people do you know who have written several first three chapters, and then flail and flounder and don’t finish that project, but start another? Why? Fear. Laziness. Writing a book is hard work. Maybe they didn’t plan the book well enough in advance and there really is nowhere to go now. Perhaps they wrote a great first meet and everything was downhill from there. Maybe they weren’t listening to the part about needing conflict to sustain the middle—or missed that class altogether. Maybe “they” is you? If so, there’s help for you. Recognize and choose to fix the problem and finish this book no matter what.

There’s nothing wrong with going back and rereading the beginning to recapture the initial excitement. Read the synopsis. Read over the notes you made and the character sketches, if any. Figure out what it was about this story that caught your interest and made you want to tell it. Read all the way to where you’ve stalled, but then keep moving forward!

Finish the rough draft
If you don’t think it’s perfect; you can always go back and fix it.
You can fix crap, but you can’t fix nothing.

Cheryl St. John

Cheryl has been through the middle of over thirty-five books and somehow finished each one. Her April release is To Be a Mother, the Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical Mother’s Day anthology.


Caroline Storer said...

Excellent article Cheryl - thank you so much for your wise words and encouragement. It's the "sagging middle" that gets to me every time. Great photo's of your book covers btw- where were they displayed if you don't mind me asking? Caroline x

Anonymous said...


Cheryl St.John said...

Thanks, Caroline! Glad you enjoyed the blog today.

and lol on the covers. they were displayed in my photoshop!

Pat Cochran said...

Good advice, Cheryl, whether for
authors or us everyday folk!

Pat Cochran

Sue A. said...

Thanks for the post, it made me think about the mid-life crisis. I just wish you could go back re-write your life too!

Great photoshop work!

依政琦萍 said...


Virginia said...

Great post Cheryl, your book looks really good! Thanks for sharing it with us!