The Difficult Middle

“But she’ll bring out the best and the worst you can be…” 

Let’s talk about sagging middles. I mean of my book, not my anatomy (although that too, soon, probably, given the amount of comfort-sugar I’m getting through…). Writers say that 40K is a milestone and after you get there you won’t pack it in. But just as runners tell you the middle section of a run is the worst, writers will tell you the middle section of a book – 40-60K ish – is the biggest drag. Guess what, they’re right: Moody, apathetic, libidinous, as alluring as a Cabinet Minister’s pants draw, constantly hungry, not sleeping properly, skint, daftly paranoid – crikey, have I been writing a book for the last four-and-a-half months or smoking skunk?! *     (* Not my thing, just FYI).

I’m currently hobbling towards 50K – juuust about still on schedule, albeit because my schedule allows for some wiggle room. This is the point you start to pick through everything you’ve written thinking WAH THIS IS EFFING AWFUL and start editing even though you swore you wouldn’t until it was finished. Where you decide what Chapter Two really, really needs is a reference to Kit and Toby election-victory dancing to She’s Always A Woman from the 2010 John Lewis ad * (the ad where a woman becomes heavily pregnant as she opens the fridge. Not a feature I want from a fridge, John Lewis…) And when you get annoyed every time someone thinks Kit is a bloke – it’s a short form of Katherine, dammit. Wikipedia says so! If you’re really lucky all of this also coincides with That time of the month! Hooray! I mean, what’s a better accompaniment to self-doubt than a very-late period, nausea and stomach cramps?!

The paranoia aspect is an interesting one. Well, not so much interesting, mainly rubbish, actually, but anyway. Writing a novel is in some ways more fraught than writing true-life or a memoir, or even interviewing someone else for journalism. In the latter, everyone knows everything is real and can take or leave it as they see fit. Most novels, on the other hand, are a mish-mash of fiction and reality to some extent. No-one but you will know entirely which is which, and many people won’t feel comfortable asking, or will draw the wrong conclusions and keep it to themselves. When I started writing the current draft I did a cost-benefits analysis (OK, had a think over a cuppa…) and concluded the potential benefits to me of writing it outweigh any risks – including any of the people who might possibly take umbrage at any of it actually bothering to read it in the first place. Still, the what-ifs happen. What if anyone hates it, and/or me? I have a handful of awesome supportive best friends from school/university/blogging who I know have always got my back and will still be best friends even if they think this book sucks like a Dyson in a brothel. I’ve also had some very lovely feedback from one newer friend who’s read/heard bits already. But what about everyone else, particularly less close/long-standing-but-still-valuable friends? If they read the book will I start fretting they’re avoiding me because they hated it every time they’re busy and can’t come for a drink, or don’t reply to me within three seconds? I should probably work out a way of dealing with this before it becomes relevant, and/or so that it doesn’t interfere with my writing meanwhile…

In the midst of the above, I’ve also been pondering the wider future and my day-job, preparing (mostly mentally, not practically thus far….) for a conference this week, applying for writing bursaries and submitting other work to major contests (yes, self-doubt, big decisions and hyper-competitive schemes – that other winning combination…). There are basically three strands to my bursary case 1) The difficulty of finding work to support myself for both personal and wider-climate reasons,  2) The timeliness of the book – some of the themes stand the better chance of attracting interest the sooner it’s out and 3) The social-commentary malarky: it depicts people from different generations with the same level of education, and their very different economic and career fortunes. Now – as ever with these schemes – comes the wait. I should know in December if I’ve reached the perpetual semi-final, and by January/February if I actually get it.

Yesterday turned into very much one of those perspective-giving days: checking with a local friend that her family in the Philippines are safe and well – thankfully, yes – and hearing some second-hand rather sad and worrying health news about someone I babysit for, which shook me up some. On a happier note, two of my friends are coming over for a few days tomorrow. This should be a nice chance to recharge and regain momentum so I can hit 50K before the end of the month – and get a better grip on the rest of life too…

* Coincidental-symmetrical-fact: The director of that ad went to the same university at the same time as they did. One of my contemporaries from there, who writes for the ad industry trade press, has met him. He’s also directed some great music videos – here’s him talking about that (YouTube link, obligatory bonkers comments beneath).  

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4 thoughts on “The Difficult Middle

  1. One thing I’ve been warned by a friend who published his novel(s, but this is something he learned when the first one came out) is that fewer friends/relatives may read one’s novel than one expects. Granted, his was always going to put some readers off (niche genre, gargantuan length), but I know he was genuinely surprised, and I think rather hurt, by how few people he knew actually read it. (Speaking of: I owe him an email about his latest project – must do that before I come you-wards!)

    While this may be a problem in itself, it is worth bearing in mind that some of your feared reactions may never materialise simply because it’s not a given that friends will automatically read our books. And that might be because they (especially if they’re not writers themselves) may actually not assume that by reading them, they’re going to have some extra connection with us – that might be a very writerly/fannish readerly assumption that people not-like-us don’t automatically make. They may see our work in the same light that we see their non-writing jobs – something to ask us about when we see each other, but not something they want to plunge into.

    I’m completely unsure to this day whether that’s a relief or a disappointment, but if paranoia is in the ascendant at the mo it might be a really handy thing to know!

    • @cloudsinvenice Thanks so much for the kind words, they’ve been a great help today. You’re absolutely right about it not being a given that friends will read friends’ books – your friend’s situation sounds very plausible. I’m sure most of mine will probably do no more than dip in enough to get a flavour and venture an opinion. I’m the same when the boot’s on the other foot – I still haven’t been to the museum where one of my best friends has worked for years (though this is more a question of crazy London geography than anything else!). The real worries and risks for me with the book come from having involved real people in my research, who are therefore likely to read it and may recognise bits of themselves and/or mutual acquaintances. Those risks are entirely my fault because I chose to do that (the compulsion to create needless drama for myself was one of the matters touched upon at counselling in the summer…). On the other hand it’s very difficult for me to imagine writing something that wasn’t somehow inspired by a real-world event or person, so it may just be that doing it without the drama or panic is a matter of experience! See you tomorrow evening!!! *looks at clock* Yes, it’s 23:43 so still just about tomorrow and not ‘today’! Xx

      Also, thanks so much again for your lovely feedback on the book!! 🙂

  2. I have no sage advice, but I can randomly tell tell you I work with a Kit who is a lady and thus absolute 5’2″ proof, should you need it for any more confused persons, that there are girl Kits in the real world and outside wikipedia 🙂

    • Hooray!! 🙂 I have known real girl Kits, (or at least, known of). I actually got the name, and her surname, from FriendsReunited about eleven years ago when I very first had the idea for what has now become this book. I went there looking for a good name for a (then) 30-yr-old character. FriendsReunited lets you search by age bands and/or schools so it’s good for finding appropriate names for someone of a certain age or background (which must be about the only thing it’s good for these days – I mean, who actually still uses it to look anyone up?!). I considered quite a few names for her over the years: I knew I wanted something short. She was Angie in one draft a very long time ago, but I dropped that. I also thought of Kat/Cat but decided it was a bit too modern (more for an 80s-born than a 70s-born), and I deliberately didn’t want anything with a ‘y’ ending because that’s too close to one of the main people I drew her from. I think that’s why it’s annoying when people misgender her – fancy researching something so ridiculously thoroughly and still managing to confuse people! I’m a bit bothered that her having a more commonly masculine name is a yucky “career-girl” cliche (notice how in practically every show with a strong female lead, she’s called Alex or Jack or Chris…??), but there we go. Most people shorten my name to its masculine version so I can hardly talk.

      Is your girl-Kit at work nice, incidentally? (I mean, nice in a general way not a “OMG, my Kinsey score just went double-figures” way…)

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