Playing in the Tar Pits…

The writerly tar pits, not real ones… 

I was making my daily rounds of my favorites, and saw this over on Magical Words. One of Carrie Ryan’s lines struck me. Right between the eyes.

…with almost every book I’ve written I’ve gotten to around 17-20k words and then found myself stuck.

Which is exactly the point I find myself at.

The thesis requirement for the MFA is a completed (ideally, salable) novel. That, however, is where the catch is: a novel. It is a thing that I have never actually completed (most of my previous works were either short stories, or attempts at short stories that are actually more like chapters begging for the rest of the story to be told).

So in my first semester, I was fortunate in that I had a few thousand words, and concept work, to give me a head start on the project-that-will-be-thesis. Between a certain amount of polishing four-year old words (read: retyping, an initial cleaning, and adding some new moments to help some of the planned story beats make better sense), those deadlines were easier going. Not a cakewalk, mind you, just not as stressful.

Not as stressful as this semester is shaping up to be. The first deadline was this past weekend. Admittedly, I have done very little physical work with it since the final submission last semester. But mental work? That’s been an ongoing thing.

Which has led to a lesson: be willing forget the linear path. Get off of it. Wander around and get lost in the woods. Go Mario.

And here’s what led me to this lesson. The first 100 pages or so were all linear – A happens, then B, then C, etc. By that point I was starting to get into the middle-lands. No man’s land. The vast desert wastes from which the middle of novels spring and grow into lush jungle greenery. But as I attempted to write, bleached desert sands were all that could be seen. Try as I might, it sucked at my pen as I wrote, making each effort a slog for new words. I could see some spots of life – scattered oasis out in the distance – but.

Finally, in an effort to break free, I went off the grid. I went Mario. I found my way to a warp zone and popped out in an oasis – one of the “future” scenes that I knew would need to be written. It wasn’t brilliant work, but it got me back into things and got words on the page. Still lots of holes to fill in, moments of “here’s something I need to go back and work in earlier” that will need to be handled.

But I have started finding my way through those midland tar pits. There’s still a long way to go, but at last I can say the journey has started.  It’salso nice to see some reaffirmation that this is a process that many other published writers go through as well, and if they can do it then I can do it, too, with some effort.

Oh, look! A pith helmet. And sunscreen! After I fill up this canteen, it’s back into the desert… wish me luck.

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