Useful things, walls. They keep your house from falling down, and keep the Mongol Horde from invading your empire, if you’re lucky. But some walls, that dead end at the alley you just ran into when you were trying to escape from a knife-wielding thug, they’re not so good. Sometimes walls are barriers.
Speak to anyone who’s written, or even had a serious go at trying to write, a novel, and they’ll tell you all about walls. I’m not talking about minor episodes of being stuck while you try and work out a niggly plot point. I’m talking about those times when you’re jogging along quite happily when BAM! Out of nowhere, a wall rises up and smacks you in the face, and you can’t see any way to get around or over it.
I’ve asked around, and the problem seems to be universal. The walls spring up, almost without exception, one third and two thirds of the way through a book, whether it’s a slim 70k volume or a Big Fat Fantasy Epic.
Justina Robson very smartly pointed out something which hadn’t occurred to me, which is that these points are, or should be, transitions. Between the beginning and the middle, and the middle and the end. Your writing brain has to change gear at these points, and sometimes the gears stick. Maybe you can even see where you want to go, but getting there is a whole different problem.
It’s at this point, usually the first wall, that a lot of novels wither and die. Getting past the wall is too hard. It’s often the first real test of an author’s belief in their work, when you suddenly hit the point where everything you try and write is rubbish, and you feel like you’re running on a treadmill. You’ve done so much, but you still have such a long way to go, and wouldn’t it be easier to play Skyrim for a bit?
Well yes. Yes it would. Because writing a novel, despite what some people may think, is bloody hard work, and the temptation to give up and do something easier is a strong one.
“Ah-ha!” you’re thinking. “Now she’s going to tell us the magical way to get rid of the wall! Maybe she’ll show us her cache of dynamite?”
Wrong. If there’s a magical way through the wall, I’ve never found it yet, and I’ve written four and two-thirds novels, one of which topped 190k. I wish there was a short cut I could tell you about. You can have the best plan in the world, the most detailed notes, and still hit a wall when it comes to the actual graft of writing the thing.
My advice? Keep writing. Even if what you’re writing isn’t up to your usual standard. Even if all you write is “They have a fight”. Even if you only write a sentence a day, keep going. Climb over the wall one brick at a time, and eventually, after lots of hard work and swearing and cups of tea, there will come a day when you’ll be able to see over the top of it, and the future landscape of your story will be spread out before you. (You might be able to spot another wall in the distance. Ignore it for now…)
Because the feeling of finishing a book is worth the climb, ten times over.
(blogging because she is 60k into Spark and Carousel, and is trying to remind herself to follow her own advice…. ;))