The saying goes that the darkest hour is just before dawn. It’s very true. I have tried my best to avoid being awake to experience it but, with winter creeping over us even here in Seattle, I find myself daily immersed in the deep pre-dawn gloom despite my best intentions.
I am certainly not the first to draw a parallel between this natural truth and the other conflicts that are faced in life – that IS what the saying is a metaphor for, after all. But it is a truth also encountered on the battlefield of the written page, while marching through what I like to call the F*cking Middle.
It is perhaps coincidental that NaNoWriMo takes place in November, when the darkness abruptly refuses to relinquish it’s hold over the Northern Hemisphere (I’m going to ignore the Southern Hemisphere for this analogy, because it messes everything up), until by November 20th we find ourselves 2/3rds of the way through the month, and 2/3rds of the way through the time allotted to our writing, firmly entrenched in both the darkest hour and the dreaded Middle of our novel. And when it becomes SO HARD to see our way through the black harbinger of cold winter that has descended over both.
This of course isn’t just something that happens during NaNoWriMo. It has amazed me that EVERY one of my stories so far has a point that I just get stymied at, somewhere in the heart of the events leading to the climax. My upcoming novella “Muses” got stuck at 15K for a few days, a word count I usually put out near the beginning of novels and keep singing along down the road. But in this shorter book it represented the Middle, and it stopped me dead.
My short story “Nothing Man” (now available on Wattpad! she said in a shameless plug…), had a point almost dead in the Middle where the character joins his family at dinner. I knew exactly what had to happen… what would happen next and all the way to the end. And yet I had to step away from it for a day because it just wasn’t working. I finally pushed through it, and the rest flowed well. I later got feedback from a beta reader who said that it dragged at that point. That was what I was sensing, and I’ve tried to fix it… but middles can often represent a little bit of a slog for both the author and our readers as we fumble through the murk of potential. By then the reader thinks they know what’s happening, and begin to question if we do. And by then, we writers start to wonder why we really wanted to write the damn thing in the first place.
Neil Gaiman posted a NaNoWriMo pep talk about it one year that is main reason I keep going. Without that inspiration, I would have thought it was just my problem. I might never have finished anything, might have just assumed I was not meant to be a writer, might have let my novels languish in the perpetual darkness.
If this is where you currently are, I STRONGLY recommend that you go and read how even a prolific professional wrestles with this in every single first draft he’s started.
And I encourage you to remember – the darkness before dawn is where the possibilities begin to sing, like the birds slowly awakening to greet the approaching dawn on even on the coldest night. Only the strongest birds stay to see the winter descend on their homeland, when all others flee for warmer climates, just as our stories become narrower as everything that is unimportant to it falls away. It is letting the strays go that can bog us down, so just say goodbye to them for now and focus on the survivors. Those hardy bundles of feathered life will still be with us to greet the returning spring, when we begin to eagerly anticipate the cluster*bleep* that will be our climax (aka, plot mating season).
… OK, maybe my analogy got away from me, but I’m now more *ahem* excited to be writing my NaNoNovel than I was a few minutes ago. So if you excuse me, I have 2K more words to trudge through today, bringing me closer second-by-second to basking in the sunlight of a completed first draft.