The Middle Distance

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This isn’t the blog post I’ve been meaning to write but because of something known as “menopause brain,” I can’t remember what I was going to write about.  All I could remember was this…

In my continuing study (read: obsession) with the book Bird by Bird, I came across a passage that has stuck with me.  When the author describes how she tries to quiet her mind every morning before she starts writing or if she finds herself procrastinating, getting bored with the glare off the blank page, she finds herself staring into what she calls “the middle distance, like a cat.”

I have a cat.  So when I’m not buried in my book, I’m stalking the cat.  I’m watching her, observing her and yes, she does have a habit of staring off into space.  It never occurred to me that she was trying to quiet her mind; I merely thought she was coming up with new ways to kill us in our sleep.

But, never mind that.  I gave this “staring off into the middle distance” thing a try yesterday.  Note:  it works really well on the subway.  As I fell into a sort of zone, lulled by the clickety-clack of the train, my mind began to wander.  I no longer wondered if the creepy guy to my left was making those weird hand gestures at me or did he just have a tic.  I no longer fretted about the fact that my son is addicted to techno-trash music.  I fell into a sort of trance, thinking about The Novel.

I tried very hard not to get too excited even though this is exactly what I’d hoped would happen.  Now that I was in this “middle distance” zone, I didn’t want to break the spell.  The Novel has been at me lately – nagging me, making me lose sleep.  It’s not finished yet, it’s not finished yet…this character is not behaving, that character is not genuine, there’s too much dialogue, not enough of something else.  It has been after me like a mosquito bite that won’t stop itching.

I thought, somewhere outside this zone I’d fallen into, Thank God.  I can work all this out now.  Except, that’s not how it worked out at all.  In my feline-like state, I ended up up-ending my entire story.  It started re-writing itself and there seemed to be little I could do to stop it.  We got off the subway, onto the bus.  Still The Novel re-wrote itself – not all but quite a bit of the middle.  I began cursing Bird by Bird, cursing the author, cursing my cat.

This could NOT be happening.  I’d worked so hard…and yet, once home I wolfed down some food, threw some steak scraps at my son and raced upstairs to open the file.  I sat and read for two hours, hands clutching my hair (some actually might have been pulled out).  This morning, I rose an hour earlier than normal and got to work.

In spite of how hard I have worked on this story, I’m a firm believer in gut instincts.  Sometimes what looks like a promising road can turn out to be a dead-end.  There were certain things about the story that just weren’t…plausible.  Even though its fiction, it’s not a fantasy novel.  The characters, their actions, their reactions, and their opportunities have to be believable to a reader.  I had taken a rather implausible detour which, somewhere in the middle distance, I concluded that readers would not follow me down.  If the readers can’t follow, they’ll put the book aside (or, as I do sometimes, throw it across the room).

Was back-tracking and heading down a different path the right decision?  We shall see.  The fundamentals of the story remain the same although I’ve gently picked up some characters and turned them in slightly different directions.  They might not be breathing easier but I am.

The cat is stretching and yawning.  She sits down, feet curled daintily underneath her and stares out the window, at nothing and at everything, into the middle distance.

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2 responses »

  1. O
    h man – thank you! It was probably not your intent at all with this post – but I have a Novel that has been lying at the bottom of a file pile being ignored for ages because I haven’t had the nerve to do just this! I too took a rather implausible detour and I needed to be merciless and kill that thread and you just inadvertently gave me the push to do it 🙂

    • I think that’s great! All novels lying forgotten in file piles should be resurrected and cared for. Glad I could help and thanks so much for reading!

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