The writer W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." I ponder these words as I struggle with the middle of the current work-in-progress, a work in crisis.
All novels have these moments, I think, like all lives. My esteemed colleague Kay Kenyon (Bright of the Sky, A World Too Near) calls the middle of a novel "the piece of shit stage". Another writer may prefer another word, but when her novel reaches that stage, she recognizes it.
Bestselling author William Gibson said once that "Writing a novel is mostly walking around and wondering if it will work out." That's the POS stage, for me. The beginning is laid down, the ending is planned, the characters are all in plenty of trouble and more or less in the right place--but making it all come together seems impossible. To quote another great author, Connie Willis, middles are the place for reversals. Of course, we know that, and we can think of all kinds of them, but we're already at 350 pages, and if it gets any longer we'll have to cut it, and besides, there have been plenty of reversals already, and the problem is solving the ones already on the page . . . hence the crisis.
I will never understand those of my colleagues who say first drafts are the best part of writing. I must be of some alien species. First drafts, to me, feel like pulling my brain out through my ears. And at this midpoint of the novel, the hardest part has yet to be achieved: weaving all the of the threads of plot together into a believable whole. Once I know I have that whole, I could rewrite forever, polishing prose, cutting adverbs, checking facts, brushing up dialogue. I can hardly wait for that part.
But first, the middle. I might need to buy a red convertible.