When I was a newer writer, I belonged to the Writer's Digest Book Club. Most months I'd squeeze at least one book into my modest budget, and after four purchases earn enough points for a freebie that I'd select with great glee. I bought books on nuts-and-bolts basics like plot, POV, and setting; quite a few on novel writing; basic plot patterns and how to use them; most of the offerings specific to children's writing; plotting; creative nonfiction; the writer's life; and did I mention plotting? I read them, marked them up, talked to them in the margins, got a good education and built a decent writer's library this way.
Time passed. And the books aren't as new as they once were. But they're still on my shelves, a library of writerly wisdom. Wouldn't it be exciting to delve into them again? So I picked up the book called -- this will shock you -- Plot by Ansen Dibell. And found a treatment for what ails me in a chapter called "Early Middles."
My novel is begun. It is SO begun, that it's been begun for a year. I have my research (LOVE that research!), my characters, my MC's initial problem and a bang-up complication, and my first 50 pages. I have promise, potential, and critique partners who want to know what happens next. But forging into the middle is hard. It really makes me plot, you see. And it's so much easier to remain in the land of potential and promise than to battle on into the thick of the story and possibly fall on my face. And I've noticed that after really getting that beginning perking, a sort of fatigue sets in.
Guess what: I'm normal! Dibell calls this "fiction fatigue," and has developed the following tenet: "Every plot will try to go wrong after the first big scene." Take a two-day breather, move into your middle, and leave your beginning alone, she says. Because you're tempted to go down a wrong path after the first big scene, if you start fiddling with your beginning right after you finish it, when the wrong path is beckoning, you're likely to make changes based on this wrong-path thinking. Which means most of this second-guessing will be wrong. And I've noticed one thing about my own writing process that corroborates what Dibell is saying: If I feel a slow-down coming on, it's important to stop and listen. What's usually wrong is that I'm about to make a mistake. Stepping back from that portion of the story temporarily to view the whole and to give my mind a rest can keep me from taking a wrong fork in the road.
And then she speaks my words of affirmation for the day: "I think more stories have collapsed from premature tinkering than from any other single cause." Yes! Not only should the writer refrain from revising too soon, but from having the work critiqued too soon. (How you deal with the latter, when you belong to a group and want to remain a member, may be another topic.)
Dibell speaks directly to me when she says, "Fiction fatigue: expect it, and don't let it ruin your story." Now to see what she has to say about "gearing up for the special tasks that middles involve."