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July 10, 2009

Carol Lynch Williams: Creative Ways of Avoiding a Hard Part (or the Icky Middles) in Our Novels

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LinkLinkThough Carol Lynch Williams has over twenty novels for teens under her belt --- including MY ANGELICA, PRETTY LIKE US and THE CHOSEN ONE --- even she suffers from writers block every now and then. Below, she shares a few suggestions that always get her through a case of the "icky middles."

Let’s face it. Writing is hard. Harder for some people than for others (I believe it’s hardest for me. Way, way, way hardest.). An author takes an emotion, an incident, a glimpse of something and turns it into a whole book --- a seemingly something-from-nothing sort of magic trick. Many times, writers have no idea where their books are headed. And yet their editors demand that books be finished, deadlines met, writers block (imaginary or otherwise) hurdled. It’s the Icky Middles of novels that always slow me down.

I have come up with a few simple ways to avoid the Icky Middles. There are plenty of articles out there talking about how to write ‘through it.’ But what about the parts of a story where you know you could skip that tough place, leave a bunch of blank pages, and get right to those last two words “The End” and life would be that much easier? Some of these suggestions may seem a bit, well, excessive. But one must do what one must do. And the beauty of these ideas? They work for any career.

Whine about the Icky Middles
While some propose throwing obstacles in the way of your main character so she has something to overcome, I recommend whining about how hard the icky middle of a book has become. You can do this whining anywhere: As soon as you open your eyes, over breakfast, while following your significant other around. But whining can be shared with anyone: At the grocery store. At the home improvement store (see below). With your critique group. At church. To the neighbors. The list goes on and on (if you’re stuck in a story right now, start your own list of whining places.)
Advanced stage whining. Throw in some low-tone muttering. This shows just how stressed out you are. It makes people take notice when the whining does not. Add a bit of staggering-around-as-though-your-legs-cannot-hold-their-own-
other-people’s-problems to this mix and you have a perfect strategy to avoiding that difficult part of a novel. Caution: this may make people avoid you.

Acquire a New Skill
Understanding what your main character really wants isn’t easy. Neither is knowing her motivation --- why she does what she does. So why not acquire a new skill? This will take your mind off those tough parts of the story where your character isn’t doing a thing you’ve told her. Perhaps you can become a brick layer or can learn to pour concrete (you can now mutter, whine and wander freely in the home improvement store if you have reason to be there). Acquiring this new skill --- especially one so physically demanding --- could then be used in a book. For example, your main character could be mixing cement when a hot new guy shows up. Who is that hot guy? Will he tear out the main character’s throat? Ask the main character out for an ice cream sundae? Will he complicate things in the story? Hmmm. Note: Be most careful in new skills choices as they may cause more problems in your novel.

Knowing if anything is really happening in your book might be hard to see. We become blind to our own words when we spend a lot of time in the midst of them. Some might advise having a friend read through what you’ve done to see if your icky middle is moving along at the right pace. But we’re avoiding writing. So why not plan a move? This is a biggie, but it really works. I’ve been moving now for more than a month. I’ve found that I can combine whining, staggering, muttering and acquire new skills just from this one avoidance behavior. Yes, I do have a self-imposed deadline for the rough draft of a book I started many years ago. I’m on page 70. So what? I am practicing what I believe to work. And the move is almost over.

While I have written only three small ways to not write, believe you me, I have plenty of other suggestions. And I’d be happy to talk to you about them. We could e-mail, chat on the phone, meet in a home improvement center. You tell me. I’m stuck in an icky middle.

-- Carol Lynch Williams