The Middle Mile

I’m racing down the final stretch of the first draft of BEAUTY QUEENS. Well, that’s optimistic. I WISH I were racing. More like limping while dragging a large slab of beef wrapped in chains. (Don’t ask me where that image came from. I have not, to my knowledge, ever limped down a street dragging a side of chained beef behind me.)

I hate this part. It’s relentless. It reminds me of when I used to run cross-country, those practices where you’d be out doing a ten-mile run, and at some point, you’d just hit the wall, and you would want more than anything to stop. But you couldn’t stop, because you were about five or so miles out and you still had to get back. And on the run back, you knew, as you passed each mailbox and streetlight marker, exactly how much more you had to run and it felt hopeless. And then suddenly, you’d break through the wall and find that burst of energy to go for another mile or two. It was almost like you weren’t in your body anymore but inside the moment and the movement. There was just the steady rhythm of your breath and your feet striking the pavement. Very Zen.

Well, I’m waiting for that burst. Because right now, I am in that “middle mile,” as my coach used to call it. That horrible stretch where you don’t think you can finish the run. This is the time for me when every doubt creeps in, where my inner critic becomes brutal and the “go with it” flow of committing great swaths of words to page is replaced by the hesitant, this-probably-sucks-and-makes-no-sense micromanagement of every syllable and its placement. Thing is, in a first draft, you really should just let it rip and worry about fixing it later. I know this but I can’t always apply it. I can’t always take my own advice.

When David Levithan (my editor on this one) and I were road-tripping to R J Julia’s Bookstore in January, I started to tell him a little about the trouble I was having. He was great. He listened and reassured me that I would be fine and that it was his job to help me make sense of it all and help me find the story lurking in the chaos, that I wasn’t alone. I think that’s the thing I forget sometimes in the thick of it: that I’m not alone in the process.

But it’s hard to trust that sometimes. Like now. That’s part of the frustration and joy of writing for me, the idea that even though you may have written several books, it never gets any easier. You still have to push through that middle mile and make it home.

Does this happen to you? What does that inner critic say? What do you do to get past it? I welcome your suggestions. Meanwhile, I think I’m going to listen to “Die, Vampire, Die,” which is my favorite song to blast at my internal critic. And I’m going to get back to the island and see if I can make some serious headway with these beauty queens.

Wish me luck.

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