I've written a few novels now and every time I hit the same post 20,000 words crash – if the full story is about 65-80,000 words. I'm sure others may differ depending on their full novel's intended length. From talking to people I think the percentages through the story are roughly similar depending on your 'normal' novel length. Some of my RNA friends who write longer stories of 130,000 words will hopefully recognise the pattern I describe scaled up to their total word count.
I've just finished the first draft of my work in progress so using that experience and previous novels I've plotted how it is for me on this diagram which I'll explain by talking through the 5 sections from A to B below. I've drawn it free-hand as I'm not very good with graphs and diagrams on computer, but I hope it gets the point across.
B – This is the KING OF THE WORLD section. This is the first few chapters section when the idea is fresh, amazing, you think you're the king / queen of the world, everything about the idea is amazing, you must get it down onto paper. Of course in this section as with all others there are dips in confidence and enthusiasm, hence the line goes up and down. But overall this is the easy part. This links into the first few chapters syndrome I've so often heard about. People who get beyond the 'Undertakers' phase, and start writing a story can usually sustain it this far. But then, like me, they reach the CRASH.
THE CRASH – at this point you've exhausted the enthusiasm from B, the thought and enthusiasm from A has long since gone and now you realise there's lots more work to do to write this story. Certainly lots more than 'Undertakers' and also, sadly you realise more than just the first three chapters / first 20,000 words. This crash is your inside critic jumping in the driving seat. He may shout things like: THIS IS THE WORST IDEA EVER. YOU MUST STOP WRITING IT NOW. YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME. YOU ARE WRITING COMPLETE AND UTTER BILGE. END NOW. As you can imagine, listening to this voice would be very easy. Many people do listen to this voice. If you are an author who wants to reach the end of what you write – never mind being published, that's a whole different barrel of biscuits – YOU MUST IGNORE THE VOICE AND CARRY ON WRITING. There are many author casualties at this section. Many stop writing and that's the last they ever do to this current idea, before scampering off to the next exciting idea and returning back to A then B again and again. If you want to be an author who reaches the end (because you can only ever try to publish something with a start, middle AND and end) you need to ignore the shiny new idea and forge on past THE CRASH. OK?
C – I've called this part the MID-NOVEL MEH section. It's not quite as bad as The CRASH, but you're bumping along the bottom, slogging away, adding the words to the work in progress, little peaks and troughs of enthusiasm /confidence, but basically. It. Is. A. Long. Slog. Again, if you want to be an author who reaches the end you must forge on, plough forth through this difficult part. I also believe this mid-novel meh part is linked to some stories having a 'soggy middle' when you've shown the world of the characters, had your inciting incident, then it all gets a bit wishy washy while you work out what the big bang at the end is going to be. My advice, don't worry too much. Write write write through this. When I’ve re-read what I've written while deep in the mid-novel mehs and I've even sometimes put little notes to myself like, THIS IS UTTER CRAP, NEEDS A GOOD EDIT but when read back, it's actually alright, sometimes it's pretty good. During first draft read through a month or more afterwards I can see no discernible difference from the bits I wrote in section A when I thought I was the king of the world and those in section C. Keep that thought and hold it close to your anguished, doubting heart as you forge your way through this section.
D – POST MID-NOVEL MEH section. Here you're coming out of the mid-novel meh and the enthusiasm is building slowly as the end of the novel is in sight. It's hard, but you probably know what's going to happen at the end, who's going to fall in love with whom, who's going to slay which dragon, who killed who with which instrument in which room, whatever, but that's something to look forward to now it's nearer, hence the building enthusiasm here.
E – THE END IS IN SIGHT. It really is so near you can almost touch and taste it. The enthusiasm of D builds quicker, with the little wobbles as ever, but basically you're in the home straight. You're recapturing some of the 'I'm the king of the world' and 'this is amazing' you had in B as you build to the end. And even if you're not a completer finisher like I am, most people get a degree of satisfaction out of finishing something. This section is all about that enthusiasm.
THE END – the enthusiasm peaks as you finally do it, you type The End on your manuscript. You've done what you thought was impossible. You've taken an idea – something better than just 'Undertakers' you've created characters, you've written their story, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. And now you've reached the end. Pat yourself on the back. Go for a walk. Eat a cake. Watch some TV. But remember, when you write the next novel, you'll go through this whole cycle all over again. I certainly.
Does this resonate with you, other authors?
Please feel free to share the model.
Happy writing everyone,
Liam Livings xx