The Writing Swamp

No disrespect to whoever coined the term ‘messy middle’ as an element of the novel (or story, I suppose) writing process. If you aren’t sure what it is, check out this post from Edits Underway.

TL:DR – it’s that part where you get stuck and start thinking you’ll never finish. Or where you get down on yourself, that those goo-gobs of words you’ve already written are rubbish. Or where you feel you’ve written yourself in a corner with no way back to a sight-line of a destination.

Image from The Write Practice

Even with a compelling image like the one above, I struggle with this idea of ‘messy middle’. I know you’re just dying to know why, so keep on scrolling, lovey.

Here’s the thing: messy writing, if we can borrow that term for a moment, might happen at the beginning. If we were to tell the truth to one another over our second single malt, you know what I’m saying is the real-real. We’ve all had those times when an idea started out as an amazing and beautiful thing but five or ten words in (okay, maybe a paragraph or page or three), it was a tangled mess destined for the bin.

Or maybe we’ve been plugging along (I’m looking at you, Planners: out there, busy with your organized programs or orderly notebooks) and just before the last wee bit that we think is the tremendous ending (or cliffhanger), things go boink.

Or perhaps the boink does happen in the middle somewhere, or one-fifth of the way in or seven-sixteenths of the journey to the end … you get my point.

I’ve therefore coined a new way to describe that boink, no matter where it happens:

It’s the Writing Swamp.

A writing swamp can be shallow or deep, wide or narrow. It can happen at any point during the journey from Page One to The End.

It’s mucky, stinky, and tear-inducing.

Created with Midjourney with prompt ‘scary swamp black and white realistic

The experience of swampy writing might last for a day or for weeks before it ends and the pen, pencil, or keyboard hits solid ground again.

But through it all, there’s always an end. We just have to keep writing, no matter how painful it gets. The price of giving up is a pile of words that you’ll never know how it turns out and that would be the tragedy of it all, wouldn’t it?

Andree Koehler is a writer and academic. She uses several noms de plume, so you never know who she'll be when she arrives at the party.

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