Thoughts from the dreaded middle of a first draft.

I’m writing a book. (Aren’t you always? says the internet. Pretty much, I answer).

And in order to write a book, I have to, well, write a book.

Specifically, a first draft.

And every single time I find myself writing a first draft, I find myself blogging about how damn hard it is.

Not that I find revising any easier (I find each to have both glorious and hellish attributes).

I love the PIECES of a first draft. I love getting the IDEA. (Those first what-ifs are the most thrilling moments in my life.) I love building the world. Thinking up twists. Discovering characters. Stringing words together into sentences and then into scenes with flow and shape and life. The pieces.

And yet I am perpetually daunted, frustrated, paralyzed, by the act of writing a book.

I’ve discovered that it’s not the ENTIRE draft that scares me.

No, a special kind of hell occurs right around the midway point. Go back. Check the blog. I always post from the throes of the middle third. There’s a reason. Something happens in the middle third, and for me it’s not the obvious plot-slack (I outline, so don’t usually fall victim to the meandering middle and the nervous authorial musings of “Where are my characters going?”).

No, the middle is the fire swamp, the place where doubt and distraction come out to play.

By the time you hit the middle, you’ve come to know the world enough that it feels familiar, and author brains do not like familiar things. Our own familiarity with the work makes it less intriguing than the shiny new ideas poking at our synapses.

By the time you hit the middle, you (if you are me) are far enough into the book to know what to do, but not so far that it seems doable. You’ve written an impressive number of pages but you probably have just as many standing between you and the end and it’s like being on a long flight where you get through the first 4 hours and you realize you still have TWO MOVIES’ WORTH of flying time left.

By the time you hit the middle, you’ve written enough to know things are wrong, but you don’t yet know how to fix them. This. This right here. This is my hell. I revise and polish as I go, and I’ve now written enough books that I can tell when something needs fixing long before I’m capable of fixing it. In writing, things often need to be before they can be improved). Which brings me to this…

You have to KEEP GOING.

Now, I’m NOT one of those writers who believes in just throwing it all down on paper, who preaches the SFD–sh*tty first draft–and says, “Don’t worry about making it good, just make it.”

But I will say this: I think you should try to make it good from the start, but you have to acknowledge that you can’t make it BETTER until you’ve made it in the first place. Let me repeat:

MAKE –> MAKE BETTER.

So here I am, stranded in the dreaded middle of a first draft, constantly glancing back at what I’ve done and sneaking peeks at where I’m going (I need both to keep my spirits up), and reminding myself of everything I’ve said above. And who knows, maybe next time I find myself in the dreaded middle of a first draft, I’ll come back here, and take my own damn advice.

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15 thoughts on “Thoughts from the dreaded middle of a first draft.

  1. sarah says:

    Good luck! Not that you need it, you can obviously write amazing books 🙂 What you’ve written here is some of the most honest and reasonable pieces I’ve seen lately on the writing process. I can especially relate to this part – “Our own familiarity with the work makes it less intriguing than the shiny new ideas poking at our synapses.” Lol.

  2. Tim Guthat says:

    Thank you. This advise is very timely. I have the beginning of a story and a very nice ending, but the middle is a dark trackless forest full of…what? That’s the problem. I don’t know. So, I need to follow your advise and start hacking my way through that forest 🙂

  3. Yes. This. Of course, with me, it’s the beginning. I have the beautiful shiny thing in front of me waiting to be born and I’m paralyzed by fear and indecision. I know who my characters are. I know where they need to go and how to finish. I even have a starting point, but somewhere inside, I’m terrified of the blank page.

  4. Emma Adams says:

    This is so true! I always outline, yet I still find myself feeling like this around the 1/3 mark of the first draft. Keeping going is the best thing to do – trying to fix things as I go along rarely works!

  5. Stephanie says:

    Yep, this is EXACTLY where I am right now, as evidenced by the fact that I’m reading this blog and commenting (and spending an inordinate amount of time on social media to procrastinate). Keep up the good fight! One word after another and pretty soon, you’ll be over that middle hump and on the homestretch. Hopefully, however, you won’t use as many cliches as I just did. 😛

  6. This seriously describes EXACTLY how I feel when I get to the middle of something I’m writing. It’s honestly the worst feeling, and incredibly discouraging. Your post reminds me, however, that sometimes, we just have to suck it up and KEEP ON GOING. Otherwise, we’ll never hit the end!

  7. […] is it about new ideas that is so tantalizing?  Victoria Schwab just wrote a post on this today, and this was my favorite quote from […]

  8. sashikaufman says:

    So much truth here! Bookmarking!

  9. bhwrn1 says:

    I love this. I love watching your process. It’s so neat to see it. And I want to know everything you are working on. Watched your BEA interview and that was just awesome. You have so much energy! How do you do it???? LOL!

  10. […] Schwab has a great post on tackling the middle of a first draft (I am SO […]

  11. […] Victoria Schwab is sharing why writing the middle of a draft is the hardest part: […]

  12. […] instead of hissing like a scalded cat.  I think part of what led to this is this really super awesome post I read last week by Victoria Schwab, wherein she talks about how you have to make something before you can make it better.  About how […]

  13. […] I liked this post from Victoria Schwab on how to deal with the dreaded sagging middle of a first draft: […]

  14. authordawnmarie says:

    Good luck.

  15. Kaie says:

    This: “Our own familiarity with the work makes it less intriguing than the shiny new ideas poking at our synapses.” And this: “By the time you hit the middle, you’ve written enough to know things are wrong, but you don’t yet know how to fix them.” Such. Truth. Oh the pain…

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