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The Saggy Middle

The reason I’ve been quiet online the last few months is because I’ve been writing a new novel and I’m stuck in the Saggy Middle. I’m a great starter. A sprinter, great for the first fifty metres or so. I’ve spun some brilliant first (and even second chapters). Inevitably, it’s the middle of the the novel that I come undone.

I’ve been working on two novels since November. The first one The Apprentice Guide to Faerieland is a ‘choose your own adventure’ style fairytale for middle grade readers. I’ve finally polished it to a state where I’m happy to start submitting it to publishers. The second novel Love in the Age of Time Travel is a boy-meets-girl-who-hates-him story aimed at young adults. When strong-willed Willow ends up working at a time travelling dating agency with her college nemesis Kai, she’s forced to re-evaluate their past as destiny conspires against her.

Anyway, I’ve been living in this Saggy Middle since mid-November.  I’m mindful this is where a lot of writers break down. The Saggy Middle is a deep, dark place that has the ability to amplify your inner monologue. TWO HOURS AND YOU’VE ONLY WRITTEN TWO HUNDRED WORDS (the title doesn’t count). YOU’RE NOT A WRITER. GO GET A REAL JOB.

In the middle of this self-indulgent fug, I was offered an opportunity to attend a Queensland Writers Centre workshop. Pencilled In, a magazine aimed at encouraging Asian-Australian creatives, are offering bursaries for Asian writers to attend a workshop with the QWC. Pencilled In is the brainchild of Yen-Rong Wong and Rachel Ang. It’s one of those simple but great initiatives that addresses an issue that’s staring us in the face but until someone actually does something about it, we don’t recognise it. You know, how there’s a big focus in education to push girls into STEM subjects? Well, Asian kids have the opposite of this problem. STEM subjects are shoved down their throats by their parents at the expense of creative arts and humanities. If something like Pencilled-In had been around in my formative years, I probably wouldn’t have experimented with drugs for over a decade. (I ended up a pharmacist) (They were dark times, man).

The bursary offer came at a perfect time for someone like me, adrift in the saggy middle of a novel. Like most writers, my craft fits into the gaps of my life. As a mum with a  toddler and a part time job, these gaps are precious. I cram as many words as I can into these holes, tallying up word counts like junkies hoard their pills (last drug reference, I promise). When I don’t make my self imposed quota, I get cranky.

I rarely emerge for air, let alone to attend a workshop. But it was all arranged. My husband was to look after our toddler the entire day. I caught a bus into the State Library of Queensland. As I sat outside the library with a coffee, waiting for the workshop to begin, I let out a breathe that I’d held for about eighteen months.

The workshop I chose to attend was called Making the Shortlist by Cass Moriarty and Sally Piper. Sally’s novel Grace’s Table and Cass’ The Promise Seed were both shortlisted for the Qld Literary Awards.

Some of the information from the course was just a refresher. Other ideas and exercises were enlightening. What I enjoyed the most was being part of a writer’s community, if only for the one day. Being able to share stories of my experiences, and listening to other writers tell their journeys. I even got to reconnect with an old uni buddy, the talented writer and PhD student Alexandra Callum.

Today, Cass and Sally’s parting words resonate as I return to my mummying routine (yes, mummying is totally a verb). Be good literary citizens that are active, generous and encouraging. It’s easy to get stuck in the saggy middle. It’s a dark, dank place where self-doubt, jealousy and spite can fester. Doing this workshop really helped me put perspective on my writing process and the importance of taking care of yourself.

Oh, and I also learnt that my toddler can survive the day without me… although sleep becomes optional and he may end up on a sugar high.

 

2018-03-14T02:37:15+00:00

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2 Comments

  1. Sally Piper March 15, 2018 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    It was great meeting you on the day Marianna and to talk about your story and its progress. Those saggy middles, eh! They can hold us back, but in the end they are only the middle, with all the fun of escalating conflict, climax and resolution yet to come. Strike towards those, write the “rooms” where they occur and when you look back on the middle it might not be quite so saggy, just needs a few toning tweaks! Wishing you and your writing every success.

    • admin March 16, 2018 at 1:45 am - Reply

      Great advice Sally. Yep, I think I’m definitely going to have to carve our a few libraries and ballrooms (my favourite rooms) and leave behind all the ‘corridors’ until the end. Thank you again for a brilliant workshop.

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