What is necessary for writing? p.II

The Middle Bit

Okay, for a little bit more…

Q: What is necessary for writing?

A: This much…

-me 2016

So what is absolutely necessary for writing? For art?

For me and my artistry it lies in the middle bit. The beginning and the ending are the hard parts. That is what separates the good from the bad from the ugly. Middles are, relatively speaking easy.

They are not easy. 

But, relatively? Compared to beginnings and endings, middles are easier. All you have to do is right two words: “This much…”

Or maybe less? Maybe all that is necessary is one word: “This…”

Maybe less? A letter? “T…”

Less? “…”

The point is…all you need to write is just to write. That is the secret of the Middle Bit. Writing anything, and let me say this ANYTHING means you are that much closer to a finished product. Think about that.

My saving grace has been and always will be Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo

1

For those who do not know: Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. It is a celebration of the novel inside each of us.

The goal or how to “win” Nanowrimo is by writing a novel in a month. They break it down:

  • 1 month
  • 30 days
  • 50,000 word goal
  • At least 1,666.6 (repeating) words per day

That is a lot of content for those who do not know. But, it is about 2-5 pages depending on spacing and font. Anyone can write two to five pages a day! But, the truth is so much more simple than that.

The truth is the time limit does not really matter. The novel already exists inside of the writer.

50,000 words and the novel is outside of you. Sure, it might be a crummy novel, but that is what editors are for!

So if, after the first day you hit word count: 48,334 words to go.

After five days and you hit word count every day: 40,000 words to go.

After fifteen days: 25,000 words to go.

By the end of the month you have a novel(ette): 50,000 words.

But, even if you are the worst person at Nanowrimo, even if you are just a writer on weekends and you only write two words a day: “This much…” you are still chipping away at that block: 49,998…96…94…92…90…

Don’t believe me? Try it. Write “This much…” right now. Write it in whatever medium feels good: Word, Google Machine, Paper, Stone, Ageless Monolith from the Time Before…whatever blows your skirt up.

Write it out and see if you don’t feel better. If you do, then great, let it lie and call it a good day. You don’t? What would you prefer to write? Did you remember that scene that you have been putting off writing for a script, for a book, for a poem? You want to write it don’t you? You’re itching to write it…I may have to go away for a second…

Okay, I’m back!

The point: Middles beget Middles.

You do not need to get too far into your work to realize where you would rather be and what you would rather be doing. Listen to those voices. Listen to those impulses.

Ideas stack and take up space. By writing them out you get space enough for new ideas. Otherwise they will just keep itching. Write the blog post, sketch the sit-com, write a podcast, & WRITE A NOVEL.

No “or’s”, just writing. Middle bit after middle bit until the work is done. Until you hit your 500/1,600/5,000/10,000 word count. You build and you grow as an artist. Don’t tackle more than you are ready to take on in a single night. Don’t tell yourself you are going to bang out a novel in a weekend. That is probably artistic suicide (unless that sounds really cool to you in which case, why are you listening to some guy on the internet?…go…Go…WRITE THE DAMN THING).

The point is, start small. Start tangible and start with just two words:

“This much…”

Title.

Titles are hard. For me. I don’t know about other writers, but for me, titles are invariably the last thing that I write. I have been stuck on titles for ten year stretches.

“I cannot start this right until I get the title right.” And I wouldn’t get the title right. So I wouldn’t write. It was really hard for me. As a writer. Because that is the scariest thing. I am a writer. Whether I write or no. But, according to Nanowrimo:

“What determines a writer from a non-writer? Writing.”

-Weekly pep talk

I think I have been a writer since I was very young. I was always better at copying stories though. Writing around the edges and in the margins:

  • I wondered what Rosalind must have been like in Romeo & Juliet.
  • I wondered where the  Grey Lands were in The Lord of the Rings
  • I wondered why Sam had to stay behind

I thought this made me a cheater. A copier. I don’t think that that is the case. It means that I am a writer. Just a specific kind of writer.

There once was a story:

1

Best book ever.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. It is a story without words. When asked to write a whole five paragraphs in third grade, I chose to write the words to this book. I was ridiculed mercilessly for it.

I did the same thing in middle school, in high school, in college. I re-imagined the stories from other character’s perspectives. I rewrite the world into something that I find more satisfying.

But, this has only ever received derision and criticism.

Until I read Wicked. Gregory Maguire’s entire career is based on this idea: reimaging fables from the villain’s perspective and seeing what that does to the fable. He does it with:

  • Wicked: a look at the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz
  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister: the Cinderella fable from The Brothers Grimm
  • Lost: supposedly a retelling of A Christmas Carol for aught I know

The point is, here was an author who was internationally acclaimed for doing precisely what I had done as a child. I couldn’t believe it. Somebody was like me. Yet again, I felt like it belonged to someone else; that was someone else’s shtick and I should suck it up and get my own.

Hence my consternation with titles. If you have your own original title, then the work will have to be yours. It couldn’t be anybody else’s. Because it is yours. From that title is born the seed that creates the entire book. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?…

No. The answer is quite simply no. The title is not the seed for the creation. For me, it is the fruit. The very last thing that blossoms only when everything else has had time to grow is the Title.

To give a clear example:

Harry Potter is called just that. Harry Potter. Why? Because that is the protagonist’s name. Easy. Right? But, what is the seed of the book? What is it all about? Is it about Harry? Well…yes, but also no. It isn’t really about Harry. Then, who is it about? The question is misleading.

The answer is the book is not about a who, but a what. A very particular sort of a what: an idea. The seed of the book is the idea: Love conquers Death. Every character, every interaction, every moment comes back to this idea that love is stronger than death and in the final conflict between the characters who epitomize Love (Harry) and Death (Voldemort-literally means “flight of death”) love triumphs as death rebounds upon itself.

But, that would be a really terrible title: Love conquers Death by: J.K. Rowling. Instead, the title stems from the idea. And the idea states that Love conquers Death, therefore Harry gets top billing in the entire series:

  1. Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

SO,

  • when it comes to titles, do not start with them.
  • aim at the idea with your title
  • it should act like a keystone, balancing your entire piece and bringing weight to it.
  • don’t worry about it. Titles come when they do. They’re fickle, take it from someone who has been grappling with them for years.