In the words of Max Gladstone, and of a dozen others in my private Inspiration folder on Pinterest, “First drafts suck.”
I know that. You probably know that, too. Most people who have finished a novel and gone back to revise know it — or should, anyway. But just because I know my first drafts are allowed to suck — are supposed to suck! — doesn’t make it any easier to push through the sticky bits.
The first ten or fifteen chapters are a delight to work on. My book world is brand new, and the ideas are positively gushing from the idea geyser in my brain. (Is there such a thing as an idea geyser? There should be. And someone should get right on that, bottling that stuff and selling it. Some days I’d pay good gold for a drink of pure unfiltered IDEA. Story gold, of course. I don’t actually own any real gold.)
The last ten chapters or so are also wonderful to work on. The end is in sight, all those pesky dominos have been set up by now, and you’re ready to knock them all down in one triumphant sweep of your author-hand. Or your keyboard. Or something. (Look, it’s been a long day. My metaphors and other stuffs are getting a bit unhinged.)
The problem is *waves hand* that stuff.
Jim Butcher calls it the Great Swampy Middle. I like to refer to it as the sticky bits. Even if you have a great outline, and a fabulous plan for filling up the middle of your novel and convincing people to keep on going, this is still a tricky part to write. By now, if you’re anything like me, you have about a million notes, and scraps of paper, and post-its, with all these crucial story points and plot bunnies that need to be wrangled into something reasonable and stuffed into your work in progress before you can leap into your grand finale. Half of those notes aren’t even on paper, they’re just floating around in my head in neon pink letters that say random things like, ‘remember dagger’, or ‘more anger’.
The sticky bits are hard, even with a road map.
Some days I can push through and get my wordcount down. Other days I get frustrated and end up binge-watching Netflix shows instead. I know my middle doesn’t have to be perfect; after all, that’s what revisions and rewrites are for. And I know that, in order to revise, I have to get to the end first. But I call it ‘sticky’ for a reason: because it feels at times like I’m pushing through mud, or wet cement, or an entire people-sized tub of treacle.
I’ll get there, eventually. I just need to keep writing until I come out at the other side. And if I can do it, so can you. Just don’t let the sticky suck you down.
2 Replies to “Wrangling the Sticky Bits”
I’ve almost finished the first draft of a short story (just passed the 5K mark), and while there is that excitement to get stuck into the next stage, there’s also the daunting feeling of getting stuck and strong self-doubt. Like you, I imagine I’ll end up binge-watching Netflix or procrastinating, but I’m hoping the positivity will outweigh the negative! For one, finishing one story means moving onto another. That’s what always gets me moving.
Hi Kat, I’m sorry I only saw your comment now… For some reason it got stuck in ‘comment limbo’ and never showed up for me. I hope you got to the end of your short story! Yes, self-doubt is the worst, but I agree with you: keep writing, keep moving, and the positivity always returns. 🙂
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