Monday, January 14, 2013

In the Belly of the Beast



I have a terrible habit of abandoning WIPs at the halfway point. I don’t really realize it’s the halfway point, but I’ve started looking at the pattern of my WIPs and yes, around the halfway mark, I let the storm swallow my ship rather than weather the storm. I’m not sure what the technical term for this is, but I’m pretty sure a layman would call it “you’re a quitter.” It’s about as sportsmanlike as being in a race, realizing you’re going to come in last, and stop running because you lost. Very self-defeatist and extremely childish. No, not even that. A child would at least finish the race.

Well, at least I’ve identified the problem. And admitted to it. That’s a start.

If you do Hero’s Journey as a rough guide to aspects of where your story goes, the mid-point is the BELLY OF THE BEAST. The hero is at a point of no return and must continue on or fail the quest outright. It’s definitely at a spot where the odds are stacked against you, where you and the rest of your group are seriously questioning the benefits of even succeeding at this point, where you just want to lie down in the middle of the road and let the dragon eat you so it can all be over already. You seriously wonder why you didn’t take up something easier, like coloring. So long as you use a coloring book because even the thought of having 64 crayons and a blank page is too intimidating. Just something a little brain-free.

Now I grant you, most of us are writers because we already know we’re not cut out to be heroes. Therefore, it’s completely within the realm of logic to be unheroic and quit in mid-quest. Surely no one would expect anything less. But if you actually want to be a successful writer, you’re going to have to assume a more heroic attitude and not give up when you arrive at the belly of the beast. After all, thousands of writers have gotten into the belly of the beast and managed to write themselves out the other side. It’s not undoable.

So some hints to get you out of the belly of the beast. For some expertise, I have consulted Jonah, who is all too familiar with being in the belly of the beast with no hope of return. Jonah, please give us some insightful hints.

JONAH:

Hello, crew, I’m so glad you invited me to speak with you today, and I appreciate you remaining at port since I’m sure you’ll understand that I no longer travel by boat. However, I did make it out safely and here are the key points I think will also help you make it out the other side.


1.)    DON’T PANIC: I cannot stress this one enough. It is important not to think “I’m going to die” or “I’m a failure”—panicking begets more panicking. Take several deep breaths. Remind yourself this is a process. Reassure yourself that you won’t be here forever. Eat several bags of chocolate. Drink some wine if you got it. Relax. You’re stuck, and you won’t get unstuck by freaking out. This is definitely a moment for a “Keep Calm and Carry On” button.
2.)    CONSULT A HIGHER SOURCE: meditating before you start writing is a good way to center yourself back to the story. Prayers and begging never hurt either. Deal out a healthy dose of flattery and appreciation for your work so far.
3.)    LISTEN TO THE VOICE: If you’re told to write the story a certain way—say your characters are all, “I want a unicorn at my wedding”, you cannot—I repeat cannot—say: “I’m not doing that. Unicorns don’t exist.” If you continue to argue with the whims and demands the story makes, the longer you’re going to sit here…drinking wine and eating chocolate, with no pages to show for it. Trust the voice. Trust the process. Trust the characters.
4.)    PREPARE FOR BREAKTHROUGH: Once you’ve agreed to do as the voice wants and all that, print off your book, look at it a different way, play with the storyboards, play with tarot cards, watch a couple movies like your story—whatever. Get your brain thinking in terms of the story and in the What Ifs. Put down the wine and play some word games. You’re not going to win the race if you’re wearing flip-flops.
5.)    ONCE OUT THE BLOW HOLE, SWIM LIKE A MO-FO: Once the beast frees you and lets you continue through the other side, for Heaven’s sake, don’t drown: SWIM! Do what you promised the higher source and write like the wind. We all have our various types of crap going on in our lives every day, but don’t let the drama allow you to pull a Bella Swan, moping in your room for three months as you wonder where the love has gone. The love is not gone. Go get it!



Thank you, Jonah. As you see, nothing here you don’t know. It’s more a matter of trusting the process once you apply the techniques. I know it’s hard to trust anything when it feels like no one is talking to you anymore and you’re the lamest, most hated writer on the planet. You’re not. It’s just a phase. Eat some chocolate (or in Terri’s unfortunate case, eat some grapes) and stay optimistic. We’re writing Happily Ever Afters. If they’re not happy, it’s not over yet.

Anyone a quitter like me? Anyone been tempted to be a quitter like me? What makes you pick up a WIP again and keep going? What do you do when you’re in the belly of the beast?

25 comments:

Maureen said...

No asking Jack about being in the belly of the kraken and coming out in the locker? Because I sorta like his technique. Go mad and swim with the flow. Though that is sorta like adding a unicorn to the wedding.

Do I quit? (Gods it's hard to type when you're laughing.) I've got a hand full of midway MSS on the laptop. I don't think I quit them...I...um...am exploring my options! Yeah, that works.

When I'm in the belly of the beast I watch too much TV, read series all the way through and sleep too much.

quantum said...

This reminds me of a hilarious tale by Gerard Hofnung 'The Bricklayer's Lament'

http://urbanlegends.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=urbanlegends&cdn=newsissues&tm=156&f=00&su=p284.13.342.ip_p504.6.342.ip_&tt=2&bt=1&bts=1&zu=http%3A//www.bluegum.com/Humour/Assorted/bricks.html

He describes how he tried to lower a barrel of bricks using a pulley and rope. The barrel is heavy and he is pulled of the ground...... "I decided to hang on, and halfway up I met the barrel coming down....."

Helli, sometimes it IS prudent to let go! LOL

I'm not a quitter but I always choose my battle ground to be sure that I can win!

MsHellion said...

Well, you know how it is: you can take the deacon elder's daughter out of church, but you can't take the church out of the deacon elder's daughter. Jonah is who instantly came to mind in the belly of the beast for me.

Then again, I was real peeved when Jack was swallowed by the Kraken. PO'd actually.

Exploring other options--yeah, that sounds a lot like what I was doing. Then I came back and realized the other options were not the right fit either. At least not right now.

TV and reading aren't bad...you can get inspired by those things. You're still engaging in story.

MsHellion said...

Q, yes, it is prudent to let go sometimes, especially if you're doing more harm to your story than good--and I was doing that with the A&E story, I realize. I just don't think fast, I guess. I get too frustrated and mean--and my characters stop talking to me. :) So I decide, fine, I'll take my toys and play in another sandbox--and I get mean and frustrated there too. It's not very practical. I should really just work on my temper. *LOL* I'm reacting instead of doing whatever it is meditative people tell me I'm supposed to actually be doing. It's just easier to get annoyed. *LOL* Easier but not better.

I also think you can always win--if there's enough fight in the dog, it'll happen. The key is making sure you WANT to win that particular battle. How bad do you really want it? Some of the quit comes from the: "You know, I just don't care anymore"--and that can be sad. Not all the time. Sometimes, as you say, it's prudent not to care and let them have it--"Fine, if they want to be wrong, let them be wrong..." but sometimes...you have to hang onto the rope, even if you're going to meet a barrel of bricks. Maybe there's something wonderful at the top of the pulley!

Janga said...

My history of quitting writing projects is like my brother's history of quitting tobacco. I've done it hundreds of times. But more and more I have become convinced that persistence is the key ingredient in success. It's a quality I'm trying to cultivate, but there's always a new idea like a red balloon floating through the sky of my imagination, promising to be bigger and brighter and to soar higher than any other I've ever tried.

MsHellion said...

Janga, ah, the Glimmer Train--a vicious creature, isn't it? I love The Shiny and I'll abandon just about anything if I think I found something bigger, better, and more brilliant.

I think our writing histories are VERY similar. *LOL* But I agree about persistence. I think that was one of the things Julia Quinn used to say--that it was the most important of all the writing attributes. You can be talented as hell, but if you're not persistent, you won't get far.

Terri Osburn said...

Swim like a Mofo. That's cute. :)

I quit my very first MS, but that was just necessary. That book was never going to work. Still, Bryan and Celi will always be my first H/H and we all three sort of learned how to do this together. Someday I'll write their story. And they'll be much relieved to see how much I've learned since I put them away. :)

I think I have a fear of quitting things. Never want to be seen as a quitter. I've stayed with a few things way longer than I should have. When it comes to writing, I'm not the person to ask here. I love the middle, so the belly of the beast is always fun for me.

MsHellion said...

Yes, I think Bryan and Celi should eventually get their story told. :) I have some characters who will be relieved that I waited to tell their stories as well. *LOL*

I quit things like a French artist. With drama and much crying, but then 10 minutes later, coming back to the canvas and taking up the brush again. I quit all the time, but I have rarely ever meant it. I even say it at work-work if I get stressed out. I don't know why. Just for the release of the idea that I don't HAVE to do this, but I'm doing this because I WANT to.

Terri Osburn said...

Forgot to say I've been snacking on raisins. So sort of grapes. Got a craving last week, bought a good-sized box, and ate them all in a couple days. I can nibble on these while working on the computer and they keep me going.

P. Kirby said...

Actually, Number 3, listen to the voice is a big issue for me. Back when I was blissfully ignorant, had no fucking idea what I was doing, writing was easy. But then I started to question everything I do and ignore the characters.

The fan fiction exercise has really been useful in that regard. Just plow merrily ahead, no worries, let the characters do whatever the heck they want, screw logic.

Typically, I get "stuck" a little past midway or even two-thirds of the way along. This is also a function of being a pantser and writing myself into a corner.

Maureen said...

Yeah, I was totally miffed when he slid down the Kraken's gullet...

Oh, Pat. Yeah, that corner. Or as I like to call it, tangled in line and hanging upside down from the yardarm place...

And you know, Hels...at least there is energy in tantrums...

MsHellion said...

Terri, feeling a little deficient on iron, are we? Can't do raisins; love craisins though--maybe it's because they're more tart?

Terri Osburn said...

Raisins have iron?? Bonus!

MsHellion said...

P.Kirby, Terri was like that. I would tell her about voices and characters telling her what to do, and she told me I was kinda full of it and that SHE was not going to be bossed around by imaginary people--and I threw a tantrum and left (my M.O.) and then later she admitted she hears voices now. *shrugs*

Fan fiction exercises are really good. I love those. I wonder sometimes if the "logic" we're looking for is logic for ourselves or our characters. Sometimes we refuse to allow things to happen because WE'D never let that happen in our lives. No unicorns in my wedding, no affairs with married men, no pulling the trigger on a gun ever--but what if your characters want to? You can't "justify" it because your beliefs make it unjustifiable, but it's justifiable to your characters... As you say, your characters can do whatever the hell they want, so long as it makes sense to them...even if they say they'd never do that. Circumstances and motivation changes with conflict. That's what we show.

MsHellion said...

Mo, definitely energy in tantrums. My favorite crush in high school used to hang out in my art class (he had study hall that hour) because he said it was so funny to watch me have a fit. But I think he liked us artsy souls. (I mean, he was still going to date the girl with the big boobs, but he did admire our brains. *LOL*)

Maureen said...

Zombie in training, eh?

MsHellion said...

Never thought of that. Quite possible. *LOL*

Marnee Bailey said...

Oh Hellie! I stop in the middle EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Now, I just build in a pause in the center so I can contemplate my navel and feel bad about where the story is going. Or worse, have no idea where the story is going.

You're not the only one that's for sure. You're not a quitter, you're just giving yourself a break, to find your path.

MsHellion said...

I should learn to build in that phase. Though I think my phase is longer than other writer's phases...like most writer's are gestating KITTENS and I'm gestating...oh, an ELEPHANT. I need to learn how to gestate like a cat!

Yeah, I think that phrase should go on a t-shirt. No one would know what the devil I was talking about but would read the shirt anyway and wonder.

Maureen said...

It would evoke some interesting looks...

Evoke? Did I use that right?

Mackenzie Crowne said...

Oh Helli, what a timely post! The muse and I have been arm wrestling for a week! But you're not a quitter, you're just a discriminating muse stenographer. Sometimes our characters can be real shits and other than turning the story into one of mass murder, walking away is the best option. Or at least that is my rationalization for putting my last three MS on hold at the half way mark. Personally, I blame NANO. I'd never stalled before I tossed myself into that dumpster diving writing course. At 36k words I tossed up my hands, sent my characters and my cranky muse on a cruise to nowhere and promised myself, NoMoNaNo!

But ultimately, I'm too stubborn to quit completely. So, when I finally tire of the arm wrestling, I drink the wine, pig out on the chocolate, read a bit, and then I throw a surprise character into the mix just to shake things up. Sharing the spotlight with a new face normally straightens out my wayward characters.

MsHellion said...

Hey Mackenzie!! Great to see you again! I'm glad you found my post timely. :) "Discriminating muse stenographer"? Do you think I could put that on my resume and use it to get $5000 more a year in salary?

Nano can be draining. *LOL* All that energy poured into 30 days...why wouldn't you abandon it AFTER the month is up? You're exhausted...and probably sick of the story after spending the last 28 days going, "I don't know what to write, this is stupid!" *LOL*

Put it in the closet and let it rest. I find in fast writing, if you let it sit away, you come back and see your stuff and go, "Hey, that was actually lyrical. I don't like the drunken monkey-assclown I thought it sounded like at the end of Nano." At least that's what I discovered with this draft. Long enough time away and you realize, "It DOES have potential. Keep going!"

Chocolate can never hurt. (Except Terri, as I said, and hers is kinda freaky...)

Also cannot underuse the surprise character. Hey, it worked for Downton Abbey this season! The grandmother from America!

JulieJustJulie said...

"Anyone a quitter like me?"

Quitter is such a strong, unpleasant word. Its like Limburger cheese … it Stinks & leaves a bad taste in your mouth. So why use it? The word not the cheese, hmmm? Because Not only is it an unpleasant word, it is also an Inaccurate one.
I don't believe that You are A Quitter, Hellion.

JulieJustJulie said...

You don't quit ...
You Disengage.
There is a difference.

JulieJustJulie said...

What makes you pick up a WIP again and keep going? What do you do when you’re in the belly of the beast?

Last time we spoke I brought up a quote from one of my notes ... so in the spirit of WTH, what made sense once might still make sense...

A quote from a note:

"I keep putting one foot in front of the other because that is the only way I know how to Be. Besides … if I keep putting one foot in front of the other then I am less likely to end up with one of them in my mouth!"