Last week my author Marie Lu came to Boulder, Colorado for the Breathless Reads tour — rather apropos given the event was on Valentine’s Day…
There were four authors featured: Marie, Andrea Cremer, Jessica Khoury, and Brenna Yovanoff. They did short reads from a breathless scene from each of their novels. They were smart though, they switched scenes so they didn’t have to read their own. It just works better that way! When the audience got a chance to ask questions, one attendee asked what advice would the four of them give to young aspiring writers.
This one stuck out the most in my mind. Ms. Cremer said that all writers need to remember this (and I’m going to paraphrase here): when she starts a project, she’s just so in-love with it, she can’t wait to sit down and write it. She’s excited. The words fly onto the page. Every idea, every bit of dialogue she writes is a gem. Then she hits word 20,001. Bam. The wall. And it happens every time. Then she has to force herself to sit down to write each day, none of the scenes come easily, she ends up deleting half the dialogue. In other words, she has to slog through the next 20,000 words until she breaks through to the ending section.
It happens to her with every manuscript she writes. And even more astonishing? Every other author on the panel agreed with her. They had never thought of it that way but it was so true!
Now why am I bringing this up? Because I think any number of authors hit that 20,001 word and either give up on the idea or polish the heck out of those first chapters and then NEVER GO ANY FURTHER and finish the novel.
I also see any number of sample pages that have an incredibly strong beginning, I’m excited, and then the middle sags like nobody’s biz. As an agent, I haven’t got time to slog through that part to get to what might be a great ending. I stop reading. On to the next author who has mastered the saggy middle, the art of gritting your teeth through the hard work revision.
Those are the authors we agents want to work with! So ask yourself, do you have what it takes to suffer through the middle abyss?