Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Dreaded Middle

Believe it or not, my life in Spain is not all fun and games.  Like any extended life experience, there are ups and downs, but this week has been the most trying yet.  I've felt emotionally unstable, both sad and stressed, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I've arrived at the dreaded middle of my Study Abroad experience.

Halfway there, and as my friend put it, the honeymoon period is over.  The veil we referred to as a "new cultural experience" has somewhat lifted from our eyes.

For example:

Two months ago:  "Wow, I guess Spaniards like cold showers.  Woot!  Time for cultural immersion!"

Now:  "Uh uh.  No way.  I ain't immersing myself in anything less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit."

Don't get me wrong.  I love Spain, and I love its culture, but I'm reaching that point of mild homesickness.  What I wouldn't pay for a steak.  For a cup of real American coffee.  For a snuggle session with my kitty.

Yes, the middle stretch is always the most difficult, whether studying abroad, running a 5k, or writing a novel.  It's when the fun starts to wane a bit, when you suddenly realize, "Hey, this is actually hard work."

As for writing, maybe you don't know how to move forward.  Maybe your characters are getting on your nerves.  Or maybe you're just sick and tired of everything; all you want to do is get to the end.  But just as I can't fast forward to the end of my semester (not that I want to), you can't jump to the end of your manuscript.

So how do you push through the dreaded middle?  How do you make it to the end?

Everyone has their own methods, but I have something I like to call a driving scene.  It's one scene toward the end of the story, though not necessarily the climax, that I envision over and over again, so eager am I to write it.  But I don't.  Not until it's time.  Because if I write it to, say, get it out of my system, then it's free.  It's no longer driving me.  But when I keep it bottled up, it pulls me forward, dangling in front of me as a reward for perseverance.

Sometimes I describe it in one sentence or paragraph, as it would stand in a synopsis.  For example, the one for my drawer novel was, "The last grain of sand falls and the hourglass shatters."  That's not even a scene; it's just one image, and to anyone who isn't me, it probably doesn't mean anything.  But I know the details, so for me, it's powerful enough to pull me through however many chapters precede it.  Anyway, I'll take that driving scene sentence and scribble it into my notebook, or paste it above my desk, so it can act as a beacon toward my final goal.

My drawing is about as good as my singing (so not good), but sometimes I'll sketch the scene, too, and put that drawing where it will encourage me to keep going.

I have a driving scene for everything I write, even short works.  In fact, it's such a part of my writing process that I've even come to apply it to my outside life.  For example, I have a driving scene for this whole Study Abroad experience.  It's different than looking forward to something; when I just look forward to something, it's hazy, vague.  No, this is a clear image.  One image, and though I doubt it'll play out exactly as I have it in my head, it's the image I envision whenever I'm feeling down.

It's greeting my family at the airport in Barcelona, after not having seen them in six months.

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