Back in the Game

I’m not a quitter.

Okay, ignore that telemarketing job I walked out on after less than a day. I couldn’t take the rejection.

Don’t consider my brief one-week stint flipping burgers at a bowling alley. I didn’t much care for the mess.

Fine. The one time I flat-out quit something, I was in the fourth grade.

An asthmatic kid who barely weighed 50 pounds, I walked out onto a soccer field not knowing the difference between a forward and a fullback. Like a deer caught on the city streets, I scrambled back and forth. I turned towards my coach on the sidelines in a desperate plea for help. The soccer ball came out of nowhere – at great speed and force – and hit me flat on the side of my face.

It stung.
My nose bled.
The whistle blew.

Oddly enough, my recent novel-writing experiences mirrored my fear of rejection, my discomfort with a mess, and my day on the field.

I jumped back and forth between the first five chapters. I tried desperately to find my footing in the story and plow through to the end. At work, the story unfolded clearly in my mind. When I got home and opened the file, the plot faded, the chapters looked disjointed. I considered my options: walk away and let the novel gather dust on my hard drive, or suck it up and trust that the struggle yields a lesson.

One place I found solace was on The Sharp Angle, in Lydia’s recent post, The Benefits of Writing Short Fiction:

A good way to improve your skills as a novelist is to write short fiction.

Most of my writing experience is rooted in short fiction; I can write a lucid beginning, middle and end for a concentrated word count. So, I wondered how to translate those skills (in which I feel more confident) to novel writing (in which I fall back into the nightmare of a fourth grade misfit in the middle of a soccer field). Lydia responded to my question in her comments and helped me figure out the crux of my problem:  the “ominous middle” of the novel, as she called it.

The middle of my novel resembled a custard pie that didn’t quite gel. Some semblance of structure existed, but most of the story oozed all over the place. No wonder I never ventured past chapter five. And, because of my fear, chapter five almost ate me alive.

But Lydia’s post, her comments, and her suggestion reinvigorated me.

I am armed and ready.

Nothing’s coming between me and my laptop, at least not during the hours of 1 and 3pm (aka. nap time for child #2). I’m balancing some novel work with short story edits and trusting that, with persistence, the pieces will fall together.

If’ you’re fighting with your novel and are dizzy from the glare of too much red ink on that rewrite draft, here are some links to re-energizing tips:

And, of course The Sharp Angle, where the conversations on short fiction continue.

What resources do you rely on to to carry you through the muddy rewrites of a novel?

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14 responses to “Back in the Game

  1. Christi, I’m going to be studying the tips at those links for some time. Thanks.

    I didn’t really have a problem getting through the middle of this novel. I just rushed the ending. When that was pointed out to me, it took me awhile to get back into the story, but then it went pretty well.

    Now, for me, short stories are another matter. I have a hard time just coming up with an idea, let alone actually writing one. I’ve been telling myself I don’t need to write short fiction, but now after reading Lydia’s post, I have to rethink that.

    I think the resource that carries me through the rewrite most is reading published fiction. I read someone whose writing is similar to mine, though superior, and it inspires me to see how much I can improve mine.

    Great post!

  2. I forgot to say, I love the photo! 🙂

    • Glad you liked the photo 🙂

      And, I find writing prompts and quick writes help me generate ideas. Sometimes those kinds of exercises only yield a great line or two, but once in a while they lead to a bigger story.

      I like your simple resource suggestion: read more fiction. I’ve noticed I’ve been reading with a different eye lately.

  3. What a great post! I don’t know that I have much to offer since I’m just jumping into the novel game, but the short fiction post was inspiring and with a few words of encouragement I’m ready to go out and get the gloves.

    Though I don’t know if I’ll look as tough as you!

  4. I’ll need to spend some time on those sites. Thanks for the links.

    As for resources, I also subsribe to storyfix. I’m sure I have more up my sleeve and will share if I remember.

    • Trisha, I just bought Larry Brook’s book on story structure. I haven’t cracked it open just yet, but based on his story structure series, I’m guessing I’ll find some great info in his book.

  5. I love the way you tied together your early quitting experiences into the feelings that rise during the novel re-writing process.

    “Nothing’s coming between me and my laptop” .. and that’s what it all comes down to, doesn’t it! Thanks for a very inspirational post.

    • I forgot …. resources I rely on during re-writing … free writing. Every section that drags, weak dialog, etc. etc., I write as fast as I can whatever comes to mind. Usually there is a nugget in there that will improve the section. I also look at each scene for conflict, action, resolution/”worse at the end”.

      Other resources: short stories, flash fiction, blogging and whining 😉 And reading. Mostly fiction by writers I adore, that inspires me, but from time to time, fiction that I don’t think is very well done, and shows me I can do better, encourages me that I don’t have to be perfect.

    • Thanks, Cathryn. You offer some great tips/resources.

      I’m actually planning a free write today on my novel’s next chapter that hasn’t come to life yet. I have a premise, but that’s it. So, free write here I come!

  6. Thank you for this post. I’m writing my 2nd book, a thorny memoir, and like your novel, I find myself struggling in the middle. I don’t know if the posts you’ve suggested will help me, but I’m going to check them out. Also I’ve recently written a post of writing Memoir that perhaps you or your readers might also find helpful. lindaleefoltz.com

    • Linda,

      I read your post and will leave a comment there as well.

      I agree, as your post suggests, memoir poses so many challenges, maybe more than fiction – or perhaps just different challenges. But my first writing teacher said once that memoir should read like fiction, and fiction should read like memoir.

      Good luck with your memoir. Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment.

  7. I like your photo and your determination! Good luck!

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