Lost in the literary Gobi, aka the damn middle of the novel


Last weekend’s Humanities Montana Festival of the Book provided a terrific description of the process of writing a novel. It came during one of the panel discussions. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who said it, or exactly how it went, so I’ll very loosely paraphrase, especially the last part.

Writing the beginning of a novel: A stroll through a beautiful summer meadow full of wildflowers. The sun is high, the clouds puffy, the breezes soft. All is right with the world.

Writing the middle of the novel: Lost in the #*&%* Gobi Desert. The journey that started so pleasurably goes horribly awry. Signposts disappear. The sun is your enemy. Forget wildflowers. There isn’t even any water. Death appears certain.

Writing the end of the novel: O happy day! The best sex you’ve ever had!

Well, hell. Right now I’d settle for plain old boring vanilla sex. Because when it comes to the work in progress, I am smack in the middle of the Gobi, without even the false hope of a mirage. Every time I look at the WIP, I feel like this zombified photo of myself that my whackjob—I mean darling—daughter sent me. I’m not blocked—not a big believer in writer’s block—so much as writing in circles. The plus side? I’ve been here before. The Gobi and I are old, old friends.

At this point, you should be thinking: If you’re found your way out before, why didn’t you mark the route, you idiot?

Actually, I do remember the route. I just like whining. The way out involves exactly what I’m doing now. Sitting down and writing. Every day. Even if most of it is crap that I’ll later toss. But I trust that, as I review those poor, sad, inadequate sentences at the end of each day, I’ll find within them the faint footstep in the sand marking the way, the one that will turn into a trail and finally, as the end nears, a superhighway! To great sex!

Come to think of it, that’s probably not the way the panelists described writing the end of a novel at all. It’s entirely possible it’s my own twisted spin. But what terrific incentive to find your way out of the Gobi, no?

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