I never knew there was a such a thing. But a few weeks ago it happened to me. At first I thought it was just a moment of frustration. I hit a wall with my novel and had to take an unexpected detour, a longer way with a treacherous incline.
Suddenly, the idea that I was inches away from coasting downhill toward my novel’s ending disappeared. Poof, gone. I looked around, trying to orient myself, and realized I was halfway up a snowy peak with holes in my boots and dwindling supplies.
I started to wonder… was I wasting my time toiling away at a crap first novel? Should I cut my losses now and start something new, or shake off the doubt and trudge ahead?
(I’m writing this during a snowstorm, which is clearly influencing my choice of imagery, so I apologize in advance for hitting you over the head with my metaphorical shovel; but seriously, it’s a blizzard out there.)
So, I did what any rational person does during times of stress and indecision: I looked for signs.
Someone, other than myself, to tell me WHAT TO DO. Of course, this is ridiculous and a form of procrastination, not to mention self-sabatoge, but I looked, and of course I found plenty online. I was haunted by articles with headlines like, “Why We Write, Why We Stop…” and “In Praise of Quitting”. The first article by Julianna Baggot turned out to be uplifting (and filled with tangible advice, check it out), but the second nearly gutted me.
I know sometimes it might be better to quit a project that isn’t going anywhere, but the question that keeps me (and I’m sure, many writers) up at night is this: How do you differentiate between doubt and honest assessment?
This crisis of faith made me a horribly grumpy person to be around (sorry family), and catching my son’s cold did NOT help matters, but fortunately I happened across another sign soon after:
On the – Wha???
I didn’t know Janice, but I loved her immediately for giving a name to my problem. Midway crisis, yes, that’s exactly what was happening! Like so many problems (if not all), mine turned out to be completely unoriginal.
This made me giddy with relief. Whatever my decision, I wasn’t the only one stuck in this godforsaken place. Others had traveled a similar path and survived. Including Neil Gaiman, who wrote this wonderfully uplifting piece for National Novel Writing Month. Apparently, he feels this same malaise at the midpoint of ALL his novels. (Note to self, move The Ocean at the End of the Lane up to the top of my to-read list.)
In her article, Janice references Steven Pressman’s The War of Art, a book I had heard of but not yet read. He calls this particular ailment, and all its odious relatives, by one name: resistance. YES. A repelling energy that pushes writers, artists, creators, entrepreneurs to quiver with doubt and ultimately retreat. Resistance, or more specifically our surrender to it, is what makes us fail.
Soon after I read Janice’s article, my sense of equilibrium returned. I checked the window of my soul in regards to my novel-in-progress. The snow had lightened and the mist seemed to be thinning. My boots were still soggy and the path jagged and steep, but I knew now what I had to do.
Take a step at a time. In one direction. UP.
Now, I have some questions for you. Feel free to answer one, none, or all…
Have you any experience with the mid-novel slump/crisis?
Has their been a time when cutting your losses *was* the right choice for a project? How did you make that decision?
What is your experience with resistance or doubt, and how do deal with it?
I’m currently devouring, and loving, Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art. The first two sections have really resonated with me, but I’m having a little, ahem, resistance, with the last section which is about muses and angels (where he believes inspiration comes from). If you’ve read the book, I’m curious to know what you think.