Friday, November 14, 2014

Writing a book is hard: Shan's thoughts

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I came across a quote this week that I thought was worth chatting about. I've sort of lived this advice for a while and it's a great time for me to give you my thoughts on it.

So, here it is. Rick Riordan in all his glory:


I absolutely agree with this quote, except that I do have one, teeny, tiny disclaimer and that's this: 

Every writer goes through seasons in their career. Even teen writers. And I think it would be a shame to overlook the benefit of not being contracted. That's right. There's a HUGE benefit to not having to write what you promised a publishing house you'd write. The benefit is that you can WRITE WHATEVER YOU WANT. 

We all go through phases where we need to start a million projects and one-by-one toss them aside. It's part of the growing process. If that's where you are, don't feel bad about it. Learn as you scribble furiously.

THAT SAID, Riordan's advice up there cannot be discounted. I've stumbled into this place with every book I've written and I can only now, after finishing my most recent manuscript, say with any certainty that it was perseverance that got me to the end. Not talent, not brilliance, not a magical bean. Perseverance. Period.

My detective story took me twice as long to write as any of my other books and I was tempted to throw in the towel on several occasions. I'm so glad I didn't. So very glad I stuck with it to the end. Even if it never gets published, it's the story I wanted to tell and I'm proud that the story exists as one of my accomplishments.

The upside of sticking with it is that you really will finish a book. And that's something most people never do. If the writing is hard right now, if you'd rather start something new, do yourself a favor and try these things first:

1. Reread what you've written. My guess is that in those early pages--the pages you were excited about--you've given yourself hints. You've unintentionally told yourself where to go next. FOR EXAMPLE, when I was trying to develop a bad guy for Broken Wings (minor spoiler alert!), I remembered that a very creepy man simply disappeared during the climax of Angel Eyes. It was enough of a start to get me going again.

2. Delete a character. This one is a bit heartbreaking, but it can jump start your writing. What happens to your tale if that old lady with the best advice ever never appears? What does that do to your story?

3. Rewrite chapters from a different point of view. But that's so much work! I know, I do. But it will get you writing again. And you may find you like your storyworld better through the eyes of a different character.

4. Cut scenes that are bothering you. Just do it. Cut and paste them into another document in case you change your mind, but get rid of them. It's like getting a long overdo haircut. You'll feel cleaner and healthier for taking the plunge.

5. Plot out your next three scenes. This is hard for a pantser, but because it's so different from what you normally do, it could give you the boost you need to keep going. 

AND THE TRICK IS TO KEEP GOING! Editing is the fun part, but we've got to get our book written first. Get it on the page. Fix it later. That other story that's been begging for your attention? It'll be fun at first too, but I PROMISE, it will get hard. They all do.

Tell me, what do you do when you hit the sagging middle of your book? 
What keeps you writing?

66 comments:

  1. I'm twelve, and...I've never really got to the middle of a book. I remember once I hit 20k words, but that was a sucky story, even compared to my third grade works, and besides, I was only ten at the time. Doesn't count. In my last manuscript I got to 11k, and smack dab at the start of a fight I abandoned it. Just like that. The story I'm working on now, The Assassin's Mercy, WILL be finished. I recently started chapter 2, but I'm going to keep at it till chapter 30.

    So, I've never really got to the "sagging middle", but I have come a teeny bit close, and I'm ashamed to say I never stuck it through. Maybe I'll finish that book one day, the one where I stopped right in middle of the fight scene, but for now, finished first draft, here I come!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jonathan, you should be proud of yourself. When I was ten, I didn't even have an idea that I could write 20,000 words on without repeating myself. Even if your story was REALLY bad, you wrote 20,000 words! That's not nothing, especially when you're ten.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Alyssa! And I guess you're right. 20,000 words *is* a feat to be proud of, at ten. Even though my story was like a bad children's book without any showing vs telling or deep characters, with *he did that* and then *he said that* and that for all eternity. But anyway, thanks a lot!

      Delete
    3. I agree with Alyssa. That's still pretty awesome! Good luck on your story, Jonathan!

      Delete
    4. Thanks, Ally!x685

      Delete
    5. Sorry, that was a typing error. Again, thank you both for the encouragement!

      Delete
    6. lol I'm 19 and I've never made it to the middle of a book, despite the fact I've been writing my whole life. Soo, if you don't give up, I won't give up, k? ;)

      Delete
    7. Thank you all for the amazing encouragement, guys. Really means a lot. Rock on, GTW!

      Delete
    8. We got something in common, Jonathon, Rachel. I've never gotten to the middle of a book. I'm 14 and love to write. This time though it sounds boring and ridiculous, I'm writing my great grandpa's life story. This time, because of an aunt who can't keep her mouth shut, I'm almost being forced to write it! What do I do? I still have inspiration, but instead of being voluntary something I can opt out of anytime, now alllll my cousins and EVERYONE knows about it!

      Delete
    9. Anonymous, writing a family history is about the most stressful and rewarding book you can ever write! I (voluntarily) researched and wrote about my great-grandpa. Of course, the entire family had to know about it and I know how much pressure that is! Keep it up! Even when you want to tear your hair out and cry because none of your great uncles can agree and you wonder what can of worms you just dove into. It will be worth it in the end! :)

      Delete
    10. And, Jonathan, way to go! When I was ten, I was writing really awful fairy tale remakes that were all of ten or so pages long. I never would have dreamed of writing 20k words! The thing is, I wouldn't trade all those years of half-finished, horrible manuscripts for anything. I learned a lot about my writing style and what didn't work and what I did and didn't want to write. I still have some of those ideas that I plan to go back to. They're just waiting for when I am ready to write them. All those half-finished manuscripts were teaching you how to write the one you're working on right now. And that makes them worthwhile, even if they seem like junk to you.

      Delete
    11. You're so right, Tricia! I wouldn't trade those 20k for anything...those words put me where I am. It's because of them I realized I was writing sloppy third-grade material and evolved into what I am today.

      And Anonymous, writing family stories must be fun! I wish you good luck with you book.

      Delete
    12. Keep going, Jonathan! You'll finish a book one day. I'm not much older than you, but when I was your age, I was at the same stage. I kept switching from book to book, and I never seemed to be able to finish one. It wasn't until this summer that I was able to finish a book after a lot of perseverance and idea switching. I think what I was doing when I was your age was building up stamina and learning how to create a story complex enough that it can be carried through for the full length of a book. It's a little bit like running (Oh, great. Here I go with my running analogies again.). You don't start out by running a marathon right away. Instead, you slowly build up stamina and technique by taking little steps and slowly building up mileage. Keep on slowly building up your writing and eventually you will finish a book. It may not be the one you're working on right now, but that's okay.

      Delete
    13. Tricia and Anonymous, I really want to write a family history book because a member in my family has a pretty interesting history that I think would make a great book and the kind of book that I would like to read. I'm a little bit scared of writing it, though, because so much detail has to go into the book to make it accurate. I'm not sure that I'm ready to write something like that yet.

      Delete
    14. All you young writers! So proud of you all! If you haven't hit a rough patch yet, GOOD FOR YOU! My guess is, it's coming! I don't say that to be ominous, but just so that you're prepared. Rough patches have answers though. I hope you remember that when the time comes. :)

      Delete
    15. Thank you all again for the amazing encouragement, guys! Mrs. Dittemore, thank you for the post. I'm bookmarking this, because I know there'll come a day I'll be in need of it.

      Thanks again!

      Delete
    16. Hey so I just wanted to encourage you to keep on going... no matter what. I started writing when I was young (nine years old, to be precise) and my first story was awful. It was the first one I finished. And then I didn't finish another one for *three* more years. And although I'm still young and unpublished, I continue to write.
      Finishing a book is like winning a war. You set out with high goals in mind, but when you attempt to actualize those goals...well... that's when things get sticky. But if you push through, if you stick it out, you'll feel epic at the end of it all.
      Like Ivanhoe epic.
      Like Aragorn epic.
      Like Hiccup and Toothless epic.
      Like M.K. (from epic) epic.
      It's the greatest feeling in the world, and I hope--nah, I know---that you are going to get there some day.
      Keep calm and write on!
      :]

      Delete
    17. Thanks Mia! Through all the stars and fires, I will.

      Oh, and love the war analogy. I'm a fantasy writer, so I can relate!

      Delete
  2. I totally agree, the more stories I force myself to finish the better I feel, and it somehow makes it easier to finish the next story. It's sorta like habits. Make the habit of not completing the story, and you rarely will, but finish your plot, and after that you will know what it feels like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! A habit! We make a HABIT of finishing. Love that.

      Delete
  3. Whenever I hit the sagging middle, I give myself word goals and a reward. Right now I'm trying to finish my WIP by the end of the year, so I know I have to write at least 500 words a day. When I reach that daily goal, I give myself chocolate. :)

    I also keep myself going by, like you suggested, rereading earlier pages. There's one particularly awesome page that I go to whenever I feel like giving up. It always does the trick.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Word count goals! Great idea. AND CHOCOLATE! You know who else does that? Jill. And Steph. When we were retreating in Tahoe, we bought bags of Butterfinger and when they reached a goal, they'd gobble one. I, ahem, ate them whenever I wanted. Apparently, chocolate does not work for me.

      Delete
  4. Oh my goodness! I can't tell you how much I agree and relate with you on all these points!

    Writing a book is ALL about persevering - not giving up - just DOing it. It took me a long time to realise that, but now I have, I've managed to finish a book, with a next one of the way.

    1. Reread what you've written.
    Oh yes! Sometimes you forget how well you've done... and when you reread your first chapters/pages you remember the enthusiasm you had for the book when you wrote it and it all comes back.

    2. Delete a character.
    I've never done that, but I can see why it would be helpful. If you're tired of your story you can make it a lightly different one by deleting a character.
    What I *have* done is ADDING a character. That really encouraged me to go on.

    3. Rewrite chapters from a different point of view.
    Oh yes, yes, yes. That is such a good idea! I recently wrote a book with every section written in a specific characters view. Once I was stuck in the middle and didn't feel like going on - I went back to the last section I had written and wrote it all in a different character's point of view. It went like a rocket. :-)

    4. Cut scenes that are bothering you.
    Oh, yes. That's a helpful one. :-) I don't think I've ever deleted a whole scene. I've started scenes and changed my mind after a paragraph or two, though.

    5. Plot out your next three scenes.
    Always do that one. I like writing all my scenes down (with bullet points) on paper first, and it really helps me!

    Thanks for this awesome post, Shan. Lovely tips! You have encouraged me to go and write right now!

    ~ Naomi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hooray! Go write, friend! Get that thing done!

      Delete
  5. On my goodness. I really needed this pot today! I managed fail NaNo for the 3rd or 4th time (I'm mot even sure which it is, now) and I've decided to experiment with a new genre and age range for my next project. I was just brainstorming it last night and kept thinking about how I really want to finish this one. I tend to be a bit of a quitter when it comes to my writing. This is such great advice, though. Thank you for sharing! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Confession: I've failed NaNo too. More than once. In fact, I've only ever completed it the one time and the 50k I wrote, I ended up scrapping. NaNo is just a tool. Don't let it judge your writing. Some of us don't do as well on forced deadlines. Some of us need them. Some of us go through seasons where they help and seasons where they actually hurt our writing. No feeling like a quitter, okay? Just do the next thing. And then the next. You got this!

      Delete
  6. Right now, I'm in a place where I'm forcing the words onto the paper. I'm a little lost--I had a plan, but my main character surprised me and now I don't know what I'm doing. I've come to this place once before on my WIP and the thing I've learned is that I have to push through, wait a few days or a week, and then come back and read what I wrote that I thought was terrible. Sure, it's not good, and I'll probably end up cutting all of it and rewriting the whole scene, but it's usually less sucky than I thought.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Also, I always find that the end of the book is the hardest to write. The action just dies off and I have a difficult time finding a good closing line. For some reason, beginnings are always better. But I have finished about ten manuscripts and my latest proposal is in the hands of an editor at Hyperion. (Fingers crossed, because that would be the greatest scenario I could imagine!!)

    Ciera @ The Write Things

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hyperion? What a thrill, Ciera! Best of luck to you!

      Delete
    2. CONGRATULATIONS! Hooray! That's a very positive step, friend. I wish you so much luck. Write through the wait, okay? It will make things easier.

      Delete
  8. I've never given up on a novel (well, I did when I was much younger, but I only got a few pages into those), but I've never finished a rough draft, either. Actually, I've finished rough drafts for fanfictions, one of which was novel-length, but that's not quite the same. Having never edited a story longer than 10k, I guess I wouldn't know, but I never thought of editing as the fun part. I suppose writing a rough draft isn't that fun, either. Daydreaming is the fun part. Everything else is work -- work I wouldn't give up for the world (or so I like to think), but work nevertheless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are many people who disagree with me that editing is the fun part, but for me, it feels so liberating to be able to cut stuff I dislike. It's freedom to know that you don't have to keep the horrible sentences you wrote. I can change them or cut them whenever I want. Love that!

      Delete
  9. I have finished a manuscript before, but I haven't hit the sagging middle before. It just never sags, but there is a point at which I have writers block for a couple weeks at most.

    What keeps me writing... I think finishing a story is a huge reward in itself. It's my inspiration, and usually there is a part that I really want to write, and i force myself to wait until it's finished. And I'm just about to write the climax in my story... so excited.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahem, and I wait until the part before that part is finished.

      Delete
  10. I've tried changing up the viewpoint completely. Not sure if that's a good idea but it does help the words come flowing and add some interest. I might use a flashback, a different character, a written account, a poem, or a telephone call. I've tried adding characters but never deleting them. That would be interesting!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Uuuugggghhh I hate that quote because it's me to a T. -.- XD guess I'll have to try harder to finish now. X)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's all of us at some point, I think. Don't feel all judged by Riordan. He's been there too or he'd have never been able to give the advice! YOU CAN DO IT!

      Delete
  12. O gosh! I really needed this today!!!! I hit the sagging middle about a month ago. in my case its extremely frustrating: I know exactly where the scene needs to go, and even some of the dialogue it needs to contain, but it just won't flow! I've written some pretty horrible scenes when I was stuck before and I really don't want to have to do that again;I fully intend to rewrite said horrible scenes after I complete my first draft. And I know I WILL finish it, because I CAN'T give up, even if I wanted to. The untold story will literally DRIVE ME NUTS!!!!!!!!!!! Not to mention, this story kind of means a lot to me. Anyway, thanks for the amazing post, it really helps!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh ugh. It's the worst when you know where you're going, but can't get there with any sort of style. Happened to me in the middle of my detective story too. Keep hammering away. Keep writing. Eventually, it will resemble something like a story. And then YOU GET TO EDIT it into submission.

      Delete
  13. I love this post! Will absolutely remember the quote and awesome points for the future days of frustration. I'm this way with short stories for some reason. Everything I need from the characters, setting, and plot is put together and by the time I'm at the half way point - gone. Dead stop. I have my final paragraphs figured out and now idea how to finish getting there.
    With novels, I do something a little bit different in that I almost never write in chapter-event order. I outline and fill in the blanks as I go to connect the plot points. That doesn't count as hitting a dead end in the middle because after I finish my obligatory 500 words in proper novel order I can jump where I please to keep the interest going! My attention wanders if I'm not engaged. Once I start it is easy to fill in the parts that would sag normally between the scenes I am happy with. Thanks again for the post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so interesting to read other writers' process. It sounds like you know how to navigate your ups and downs. Major props.

      Delete
  14. That quote is good advice! When I first started seriously writing, when I was 11 or 12, I used to always start new projects and never finish any of them. It still helped me a lot as a writer, but actually buckling down and finishing things was an important step to take.
    I'm in the middle of the novel I'm writing for Nano at the moment, and I'm sort of worried because I haven't done as much planning as I'd like. But reminding myself of how much progress I've made - almost 50k so far! - is incredibly motivating :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GOOD FOR YOU! Almost 50k and a month to go. HOORAY! Now, listen, Shannon Hale (author of the Princess Academy) says she is a huge fan of overwriting. In other words, she writes way too much content so that in the editing phase she can pick and choose the scenes that move her story forward in the best way. I love this idea. Don't worry about overwriting. It's a good problem to have.

      Delete
    2. Ugh. Of course I meant, "50k and HALF a month to go." Math screws with me every time. ;)

      Delete
  15. Thanks! For me what really helps is making bogus scenes that definitely do not belong to the story but help me explore the character's thoughts a bit more, or give me more scope to express the "message" of the story. And it really does help (esp. for first drafts!)...and brings a whole new flavour to the story that was fun to write but definitely something I'm cutting out when it's time to start editing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! Love this. Read my comment to Kate up there. Shannon Hale has good advice on this.

      Delete
  16. I've never completely given up on a story. I have, however, frequently given up on a draft of a story and then started completely over from page one because I didn't like where it was going. I've also decided to scratch books half-way through because I want a different one in their slots for a series. I wouldn't call that giving up though, sense I might still reuse some of the scenes or plot elements. It's just recycling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. This is not giving up. I scrapped my detective story after a month or so because it was reading to old. But, it's a finished beast now. Starting over isn't giving up. Most of the time, ;)

      Delete
    2. Exactly. If I just restarted the same book over and over again, and never finished, that wouldn't be a good thing, either. However, if I'm close enough to the end of the book when I decide to make the major plot change (i.e. the decision to add some guys or remove the iron noose or something like that) I still make myself finish even though what I'm writing conflicts with where I now want the plot to go.

      Delete
  17. Great list! I think I would add brainstorm with a few writer friends on this list! At least, that's what I tend to do when I'm in the sagging middle or I'm stuck. I have a couple of friends that read everything as I write it. They are my alpha readers. Whenever I'm stuck, usually one of them has the idea I need to move forward. It is also a big motivation to finish the book when I have two of my best friends/readers clamoring for me to actually finish the book. I don't think they would let me permanently walk away from a manuscript that they really like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THERE IS NOTHING like a writer pal to cheer you on. NOTHING! Keep them close, lady. Great writer pals are hard to come by.

      Delete
  18. Thank you for this timely post! I think everyone's said everything else already, but I'll echo Tricia above me and say my friends refusing to let me give up on things if helpful. They'd kill me if I said "Nah, forget about this story" because they want so badly to read it...

    And I'm holding a knifepoint to at least one of my writing buddies if she's feeling like giving up on this WIP of hers. Grrr. LOL :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THAT is why Go Teen Writers is so fabulous. Stephanie and Jill have created such a wonderful place for you all to congregate and cheer each other on. I love it. LOVE IT. LOVE IT. LOVE IT.

      Delete
  19. I learned along time ago that I will have other ideas while working on story. Sometimes I add them to the story I am working on for a twist or, if the idea is strong enough, it will survive until I can get to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Agreed. And the delay can help the story develop in the back of your mind so that when you come to the blank page, characters or scenery or backstory are bright and fresh and waiting on you!

      Delete
  20. I always seem to hit the sagging middle part with every writing piece I work on. However, I keep on writing because I know that when I'm finally finished, the feeling will be priceless (especially in the case of a book).

    ReplyDelete
  21. When I saw the title of this post my eyes bugged out and I shouted from the depth of my soul "Amen!"

    What's disheartening to me is that I've realized I don't like my stories. And then I question myself whether it's that I hate the story or that a part of me hates writing it.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "Go Teen Writers" has been included in our A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that we hope this help to point even more new visitors in your direction.

    http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-sunday-drive_16.html

    ReplyDelete
  23. Visiting from Jerry's. Nice to meet you. Catherine

    ReplyDelete
  24. good quote and good advice. I find it hard to go through the rewriting/editing process, which is why I've never completed any of my books. but I will, one day.

    ReplyDelete
  25. The first time I ever finished a book or even got to the middle was during NaNoWriMo this year. I find working on a deadline really helps me get stuff done.

    Thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete

Home