After writing more than 100 fiction books under various pen names, countless articles, blogs, and conference presentations, I wish someone would’ve told me one simple truth — it never gets easier.
The basic structure of a novel is ingrained in my subconscious. I instinctively know what needs to go where and when to build anticipation, interest, and emotion, but there are still moments when I stare at the blank page with total despair, wondering how and if I’ll ever finish another novel.
Some say, the “sagging middle” is the hardest part of writing a novel; others say, no, it’s definitely the first third of the book that’s the deepest struggle; still others say, heck no, it’s the ending that kills their groove.
And here’s what I say — they’re not wrong.
The first third of the book is critical for snagging the reader’s interest. If you lose them in the first page, chapter, etc., your creative baby is toast.
The sagging middle is always heavy with plot structure, layering intrigue, emotion, and character growth so you have to make sure your layering technique is deft, subtle and clean.
The ending is crucial for tying up loose ends without rushing the climax, and creating a satisfying emotional experience for the reader.
So, where’s the easy part?
Surprise, shawwwty! There is no easy part and anyone who tries to tell you different, is selling something.
Yet, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
The urge to create is part of my DNA. Before I was consciously aware, I was a storyteller. From being that girl with an overactive imagination, who talked to trees, left tiny wildflower bouquets for total strangers, and somehow talked my sweet friend into dressing up like aliens (wearing old polyester nightgowns over our heads) and staring up at the sky for a photo shoot, I was creating worlds.
So, here we are. I’ve carved a career out of being insatiably curious, odd, dramatic, and quirky.
I’ve touched lives with words I’ve written, and people I’ve created out of thin air. My books are internationally read and enjoyed, having translations in France, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and Germany.
It is both humbling and terrifying to understand the breadth and scope of what I’ve created.
And still, I struggle daily with imposter syndrome.
I live with an irrational fear that one of these days, someone is going to figure out that it doesn’t matter how many books I’ve written, I’m always on the edge of a total breakdown fueled by insecurity.
With every book, at some point, my family expects that wailing phone call, that deeply despairing call for help, that utterly mental cascade of self-doubt, as I flail about in a sea of panic, trying to keep my head above water.
With every book, I am certain it’s my absolute worst and it’s a travesty that a tree sacrificed its very life for the drivel I’m writing.
With every book, I am certain I have early onset dementia because I’ve clearly forgotten how to string together a coherent sentence.
With every book, I am devastated by my failure to reach (insert whatever goal of the day I have percolating in my brain pan) and obviously, I’m not cut out for this career.
Cue the insane writing jags, the wild-eyed, manic vision springing from my swollen fingers and screaming wrists as I chase an impossible deadline.
Then, somehow, by the grace of God, I finish the project with no small cost to my mind, body, and soul.
And I can breathe again.
There’s a curious emptiness in my head. The character voices that’d been so loud, are suddenly quiet and content. The silence is unnerving. I struggle with the intrusion of normal everyday thoughts and responsibilities. For a few days, I’m useless as I recharge.
Slowly, I start to recover.
But it’s time to start the next book — and the process starts all over again.
There’s a reason I’ve never been quite right in the head. There’s simply not enough room for long bouts of sanity amongst the clutter of my creativity.
And 100 books and counting, tells me that’s just fine.
Kim Van Meter is a former full-time reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Escalon Times and The Riverbank News; she continues to provide occasional columns.