Yesterday I reached the half-way point in the novel I’m writing. I figured that called for a celebration, so I went out to lunch with my sister-in-law. Now I confess that I’m a “seat of the pants” author who doesn’t lay out her plots ahead of time but who makes up the story as she goes along. So how do I know that I’m half finished? Simple. I know how many typewritten pages my last dozen novels were, so I calculated the average number of pages per book and divided it in half. Mathematically, I’ve now reached the half-way point—230 pages.
Never mind that I still don’t have a title for this book. And never mind that one of my characters has a heart-wrenching choice to make and I have no idea what she’ll decide. Or that another character has just agreed to marry a man she doesn’t love and I can’t talk her out of it. Never mind that I’ve killed off five of my favorite characters in various tragic ways (but for very necessary reasons), leaving me with a saddened and sorrowfully depleted cast to finish the story. I still thought it was appropriate to pause and celebrate the mythical, magical, mathematical half-way point.
An interesting phenomenon happens to me (and to other writers, so I’ve heard) when we reach the middle of a book. Like marathon runners, we sometimes “hit the wall.” We run out of steam. We lose momentum. The race has begun to feel like work and we want to play. When this happens to me, my mind starts spinning plot ideas for the next novel and the one after that instead of plodding forward with my current plot. I get excited about meeting new characters, and I long to ditch the indecisive, needy ones I already have. They’ve become a bunch of malcontents, whining about the plot twists that entangle them, and growing petulant and uncooperative. I’ve threatened to kill off a few more of them if they don’t cooperate but it’s a bluff. I can’t risk running out of people before I run out of pages.
But all these wonderful, new characters! Ah! They’re dancing through my mind like the cast of a Broadway musical, bursting with laughter and fun and intrigue. “Come out and play,” they sing. Who cares about that woman who’s about to marry the wrong man? It serves her right if she ruins her life. And the indecisive one? Tell her to toss a coin and get it over with. There’s a new story to be written, a new game to play.
Some writers say it’s best to go where your creativity leads and lay aside the half-finished book. Take time to develop all these great, new people and ideas while they’re fresh in your mind. Believe me, it’s tempting. But I know what will happen if I do. Sooner or later I’ll reach the half-way point in that book, and my once-energetic characters will start to slow down and sag and whine just like the last bunch. They’ll refuse to come out and play. The Broadway musical will close down. Meanwhile, I’ll have a deadline that has to be met. I need to type “The End” at the end of my half-finished book on January 15—a mere six months from now.
So I’ll enjoy my leisurely lunch—and then I’ll encourage myself to get back to work with these words: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
They say the hardest thing in a writer’s life is the chair.