NaNoWriMo · Writing

The Sophomore Slump

My manuscript for Release currently stands at just under 21000 words. That’s an impressive number, but the fact is… it’s only 1/4 of the way to “novel” length.

I know my story arc. I know the character’s goals and challenges. I know what they’re up against, and I know why. I can see the entire story play out in my mind down to the smallest detail.

And yet, 20,000 words is such a speed bump for me. It always has been. If you go through my slush files, you’ll find a lot of manuscripts sitting abandoned with right around that number of words.

I’ve identified this as my 20K slump, and I equate it directly to the phenomenon known as the Sophomore Slump in college.

I’m not at the beginning, so the fresh-newness has worn off. I’m not close enough to the end to see even a sliver of light from the ass-end of the tunnel.

I’m trudging uphill, building the scene through narrative, exploring and exposing subplots, and trying to hold all the puppet strings just so… lest the entire thing crash and burn in a giant pile of stinking poomatter. I open my manuscript, I see pages upon pages of word vomit, and I realize just how much more I have to spew before I can consider myself “done.” (As if done really exists to a writer in reference to her manuscript… more like finally walking away from the fretting neurosis that has me looking up the spelling of “that” at 3 AM because it just doesn’t look right…)

So yes, it’s exactly like my sophomore year of college.

whiningThe beauty part about having a completed novel that is days away from publication is the simple fact that I know, beyond doubt, that I’m able to triumph over my 20K Slump.

I remember hitting this point last year while writing Rising and going, “Welp! That’s it! Tuck this into the slush pile!”

But another voice… I’ll call it the voice of reason, because it sounds better than the voice of “Come ON already you idiot, just DO it”… that voice spoke up and said:

“Hey you idiot… you ever think maybe you should, gee, I dunno… make a quick outline of what comes next?”

And so I did. I put about 2000 words into an outline that got me through the climax of the novel.

Once I had the rough sketch, the rest flowed like water. The strings of subplot wove together and danced on the page, then tied themselves neatly at the end. The characters accomplished their goals, faced their challenges, and brought the story to its logical conclusion.

I’m looking ahead to the sophomore chapters of my novel, and I’m realizing where I am. This time, I have a bit more wisdom under my belt, and the confidence of having finished before.

So tomorrow, when I get up to write, I shall write in the form of an outline. I’ll declare the major plot of the novel. I’ll define the minor subplots. I’ll sign the characters up for their required courses, and we’ll move forward into Novel University together. We’ll conquer the Sophomore Slump that is 20,000-40,000 words, and we’ll finish with honors.

Or at least we’ll finish.

I’d take not failing.

Because unlike college, when you write a novel, you get to go back and edit out the bad marks.


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