I recently attended the Tucson Festival of Books and Sabrina Jeffries and Susan Wiggs put on a wonderful workshop titled How to Firm Up a Sagging Middle. It was all about what to do when you reach that point in your novel (usually about the middle, I call it the fat part) where everything seems to be falling apart. Your plot isn’t coming together. Your characters, those ungrateful creatures you brought to life and patiently nurtured as they experienced conflict and growth, have failed to do as you asked. The pacing is off. Tension is non-existent. Your novel is tedious and boring. Have I struck a nerve, yet? Whatever the problem, you’re tired of the struggle and fairly certain that your writing sucks. Who needs this? No one with an adequate number of brain cells would put themselves through this kind of torture. You’re in hell and that’s a mighty uncomfortable place to be.
Susan Wiggs, who has over a zillion books in print, obviously thinks so, too. I know this because she uttered four of the most profound words about writing a novel that I’ve ever heard. It’s not for sissies.
Wow. Kinda makes you want to put the words on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt, doesn’t it? I always figured that people like Susan Wiggs or Sabrina Jeffries and all those other authors who put out best sellers at an astounding rate couldn’t possibly have to navigate the same stumbling blocks I do. After all, they’re not only successful and intelligent, but words flow from their right brain into the keyboard at the speed of a water park slide. They never question their career choice, or wonder if they have it in them to tackle the next book and they certainly don’t panic when there’s a deadline to be reached and their novel isn’t progressing the way they want.
Turns out I was wrong. They do! It isn’t just me, or you, or our fellow critique partners who occasionally want to throw their laptops out the window and howl like a dog at the futility of it all. We are not alone. Isn’t that awesome? Those shining stars who sit at the top of the best sellers list don’t turn out book after book because it’s easy. They sweat, they struggle, they occasionally freak-out. But mostly, they work hard. Real hard. ‘Cause guess what? It’s not for sissies. And they don’t give up. That’s the important part. They work through the self-doubt and other challenges they face and continue to write.
I think that little nugget of wisdom is the most important thing I’ve learned during the years I’ve been writing and I’ve decided to make it my mantra. (Along with technology is my friend, but I‘ll get to that another time.) The next time I question my ability as a writer, or wonder if I have what the wherewithal (I love that word) it takes to achieve success as a novelist, I’ll take a moment to remind myself of those four little words, It’s not for sissies, and then I’ll just keep on writing…