The Muddy Middle

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When I was a kid, I walked home from school across a large field. One spring, with the snow nearly melted and tufts of green shooting up here and there, I reached a point where a large mud puddle presented itself. I studied it for a short while and decided that it would be fun to walk through said puddle. Always ready for adventure, I was. And honestly, what kid could resist? Onward I went, keeping an eye on the top of my boots to make sure the mud did not reach the top. Halfway through the puddle, though, my boots got stuck. I mean, really stuck. I couldn’t move. So, like any intelligent child, I simply stepped out of those boots, left them there, and continued on home.

 

If only writing a story were that simple.

I always begin with real paper and a real pen. I read somewhere that writing by hand uses a different part of your creative brain than writing with a computer keyboard. Don’t ask me about the science behind that because I am SO not a science person, but I can vouch for the fact that it’s true. If I can get the beginning of a story handwritten into that brand new notebook, then I can move on to my computer and continue.

Until I get to the middle. The muddy middle where your boots get stuck.

Why, oh why do stories have to have a middle?

I dread middles. I don’t like writing middles. And quite often I don’t like reading middles. It’s like there is a lull in the story that writers feel compelled to fill with useless drivel that does nothing except add pages. This is what you read before you turn off the light at the end of the day because the middle will cause you to experience a most peaceful slumber. (Word of advice here: do not start a new book at this point, especially one you’ve been antsy to read. Stick with a middle if you want to sleep. I know this.)

How does one manage the muddy middle? And don’t tell me to outline, because I’ve tried that many times and I’m no good at it. Introduce a twist? That idea has some merit. I’ll think about it. Kill off a main character? Hmmm. Go deeper with the story’s major conflict? Perhaps. Describe the neighbor’s garden in infinite detail? Yawn.

I don’t know what the answer is and I am open to suggestions, advice, instruction, a kick in the pants, whatever it takes, but I suspect there is no one answer to the muddy middle dilemma.

Oh, my boots? My mother was livid – and I mean livid – when I got home that day. She made me go back to that mud puddle and fish those boots out.

Maybe that’s why I have a thing with muddy middles.

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The Need to Write

Some people are writers. At least, they think they are. They write and write and write and when it all comes to an end, whatever it is they’ve written is absolute garbage. Just to be clear, this is simply my opinion. Although I tend to consider myself a bit of an expert, given the number of books I’ve read, owned, borrowed, studied, gifted, sold, or lost in my lifetime. Thousands. Maybe even tens of thousands.

Back to the writer thing.

And the people who think they are writers.

It puzzles me how poorly developed plots, cardboard characters, and unforgivable sentence structures find their way onto bookstore shelves and bestseller lists. Who makes these decisions? The brainless consumer, of course. The ones who wouldn’t know a well-written book if you smacked them in the head with it. And then you have the editors, agents and publishers who have convinced the general public that this is literature, because using the word literature excuses a multitude of literary sins.

When I find authors who can create a compelling story, characters who come alive, and have a firm grasp of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, I find myself weeping with relief that there are still such people in the world – people who respect the writer’s craft and wield their tools with precision. They are my heroes. The ones I strive to emulate in my own writing.

Oh, I’ve not reached any great measure of notoriety as a writer. Not yet. I’m sure that my work would be a treasure trove of pickings for the serious editor. But I don’t write for them. I don’t even write for the dim-witted multitudes who have unknowingly allowed themselves to be dumbed down by the declining standards of education. (Kudos to the teachers out there who raise the bar.)

I write for me.

Because I love to write.

To those who write and publish the poorly constructed stories – well – who am I to say that you are not writing what you need to write.

Just like me.

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The Writing Questions

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When people ask you what you do and you tell them you’re a writer, be prepared to close your eyes and shake your head a lot. Better that than blurting out what you’d really like to say. Trust me on this.

The first inevitable question, which usually comes with not-so-subtly raised eyebrows: “Oh. What do you write?”

My response: “Fiction.”

At this point, the eyebrows go up even further. I will interject here with an observation. To a large chunk of the population, fiction is not considered real writing. Apparently, anything you make up in your head is disqualified.

Question two: “What have you published?”

Me: “I am working on a couple of manuscripts to submit to potential publishers.”

Now the eyebrows drop and a look of indulgence appears: “So you’re not actually a real writer.”

I smile with my mouth, not my eyes, and grit my teeth as I politely respond: “Yes, I am a real writer. I write.” It doesn’t get more real than that, people.

To their credit, they recognize the fumble: “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to – um – .” Their eyes dart around, seeking a way to bail themselves out. I’ve stopped helping with this. Finally, they ask: “How many books have you written?”

Why is our society so caught up with numbers? Quantity is the key. If there is no quantity, there is no validation. So I tell them that I’ve written dozens of technical manuals, completed two novels, started about a hundred others, and kept a blog running for over five years. Their eyes glaze over and comprehension drops. They don’t get it. And I freely admit that I’ve lost patience with them.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that no one understands a writer like another writer. And when you connect with another writer on that pure organic level, your mental chaos settles into lovely organized thought patterns. I have a few of those writers in my life.

Emily.

My beautiful thirteen-year-old granddaughter, already a brilliant fiction writer with an incredible imagination. She is working on her first fantasy novel and I am honored to be collaborating with her on it.

Christopher.

My talented university-student nephew who is well into writing the second novel in his Sons of Depravity series. He is the master of epic stories. I’m often dumbfounded at the level of detail and research that he puts into each scene. I’m grateful that he considers my opinions worthy.

These two, in particular, motivate me. They inspire me. They get me in a way that very few do.

The writing questions will always be there, coming from people who ask without thinking, comment without understanding, and form opinions based on whatever it is that makes them tick. What they think doesn’t matter to me as much as it used to. I’m doing what I know to do, just as they are.

So go ahead and ask.

But you may not like the answer.

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Seven Months

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It has been seven months since my last post. Seven. S.E.V.E.N.

Is there significance in that? Probably not, but I thought I’d extend a little fanfare in recognition. Please rise and clap. Thank you.

So, what has been happening around here in the past seven months, you ask? Hmm . . . we had spring, summer and now it’s fall. I attended two weddings, two conferences, numerous birthday parties, had a part time job show up on my doorstep (literally), babysat lots of grandchildren, drank gallons of coffee with friends and family, lost 45 pounds, drove through the Rocky Mountains three times . . . and a whole lot more.

Yet, during all that time, I wrote nothing that could be construed as good, interesting, or book-worthy.

Oh, I wrote. All the time. Everywhere. I have notebooks full of ideas. Pages of dialogue. Paragraph upon paragraph of description. But none of it ties together.

Yet.

I have to believe that this horrible dry spell will end. Soon. And if you’re a writer, I don’t have to explain how utterly discouraging and frustrating and disappointing a dry spell can be. It affects you. In everything. You can’t explain it, as much as you try, and I love the people in my life who support me and pretend to understand even though they don’t. They can’t.

Seven months is a long time. I am not a patient person and I have done my part through this desert; praying, keeping myself motivated, looking for ideas, trying new things.

I feel as though I’m on the edge, ready to jump off a cliff into the unknown. I don’t know what I will see as I soar over that new landscape, but I think that all of the snippets I’ve written in my notebook will be flying with me, waiting to land in the place I make for them.

Sense the anticipation?

I do!

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The Catch

It’s finished.

Done.

The End.

Let the Hallelujah Chorus resound.

After months of thinking, typing, dreaming, typing, eating, typing, revising, typing, and revising some more, my novel, The Catch, is complete. Aside from a little polish here and there, it’s ready for submission to the powers that be.

What happens when a frustrated writer is visited by the main characters of her work in progress, asking her to help them find their happy ending? Well, a whole lot of interesting twists and turns, that’s what. More about that in a later post.

For now, I am basking in the euphoria of having finished this 65,000 word story by the deadline I’d set for myself. And considering this was not a piece of work that I’d done any amount of prior writing on, it is nothing short of a miracle that it is finished. Seriously.

The point of this post is the catch. (Not The Catch.)

The catch to doing something like this is actually doing something like this.

You can cry and lament and whine all you want about how hard it is to write and finish a book. But until you sit down, with your rear in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard, I’ve got no sympathy. Because it ain’t gonna happen any other way.

I know this.

Because I was the one doing that crying and lamenting and whining for way too many years.

There is no doubt about it; writing is work. It’s hard. It’s not even that much fun sometimes. But you have to stick with it.

Every.

Single.

Day.

And now, less than 24 hours since my last revisions were completed, I am outlining my next novel.

And it’s going to be a doozy!

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Where Are the Thinky Ones?

The thinky ones are disappearing at an alarming rate. Or so it seems.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a rather marked decline in the thinking population. I’m talking about people who actually stop to consider their actions, their decisions, their words, and their goals on a daily basis, rather than doing life by rote. Thinking people allow their minds to dwell on problems in order to solve them rather than lamenting their plight. They come up with new ideas instead of blindly following the latest fad. They are capable of having intelligent conversations that don’t revolve around the weather or football or shopping. They take the time to work through difficult situations rather than giving up because it’s too hard.

Where are the thinky ones?

I want to talk to them.

I have to admit that I’ve found myself downright bored during a good number of conversations I’ve had over the years. I’ve concluded that life is too short to waste on small talk. Especially when small talk is all that too many people are able to produce.

During my high school years, I was fortunate to participate in a series of seminars that pointed me in a good direction – a direction that opened my eyes to possibilities. I learned to explore the unlimited capacity of the mind to be able to think and to reason and to create. This made sense to me. It still makes sense. So I think about it and experiment with it, and I see potential become reality.

As I spend time in God’s Word studying the things He has laid out for me, untapped abilities are coming to life. As I follow His direction and think His thoughts, I see limitless dreams and visions begin to form. It’s mind-blowing. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

But I have to focus. I have to zero in on what’s really important. I have to think.

I don’t know if this blog post makes any sense. I hope it does. Because that means you’re probably one of the thinky ones, and I’d like to talk to you!

 

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The Big Idea

Have you ever had a Big Idea? You know, the kind of Idea that seems impossible but is fun to think about anyway. The kind of Idea that when you tell people about it they look at you weird and back away. The kind of Idea that has potential to change the world. At least, your world. Yeah, that kind of Idea.

I have them all the time.

But the problem with having Big Ideas is that you have to be careful who you tell.

There are the Dummy-heads who don’t get it at all. They roll their eyes and groan, wondering what kind of lunatic you are to let your imagination run away with you like that. Stay away from them! They are damaging to your creativity.

There are the Polite ones who want to be nice about it. They smile and nod and say the right words, acting like they really like your Big Idea and they get your hopes up because you think you’ve found somebody who understands, but they don’t. These people are easy to spot because they usually look at you with a blank stare and have a fake smile pasted on their faces. They mean well, but they don’t help you.

There are the Naysayers who stop you dead in your tracks before you’ve even finished what you were saying. They have all kinds of reasons why your Big Idea will never work and they shut you down before you’ve had a chance to explain. It’s good if you can weed these creeps out of your life because they will choke you out.

There are the Control Freaks who can’t bear to let anyone have a Big Idea they didn’t think of first. Be careful how much you tell them, because the next thing you know, your Big Idea is being promoted as their Big Idea.

I like the Honest People. They will take the time to listen. They let you tell the whole story without interrupting except to ask clarifying questions. They make valuable suggestions and actually help you to make the Big Idea even better. They are the ones cheering for you when the Big Idea is a success. And they’re cheering for you even if it isn’t. These people are your real friends. If you’ve got one or two or three of them, don’t let them go!

I popped another Big Idea into the pipeline today. It needs some time to churn and grind in there – to smooth the rough edges and get the gears aligned. I haven’t told anyone about it yet and I’m going to be picky about who hears the details.

I’m not interested in rolling eyes or pretend smiles or being told a hundred ways why it won’t work.

Because sooner or later, one of my Big Ideas will change the world.

 

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