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Writing Out the Doldrums

She's listing...

"Doldrums" is one of my favorite words. It rolls off the tongue. It's evocative. It's nautical. It's what I named our world in Yonder & Far (because Yonder and Far's people find us so dreadfully dull). The word holds both a particular and a wider meaning:


Merriam-Webster.com captures both definitions, defining "doldrums" as: (1) a spell of listlessness or despondency; (2)  a part of the ocean near the equator abounding in calms … , squalls, and light shifting winds.


I'd offer a third definition.


"Doldrums": (3) the point in writing the first draft of a novel, roughly between 55% and 70% of completion, when the initial thrill of the book's idea has long since faded and every line, every word, comes to the page as a long, ponderous slog.


I'm in the doldrums now in my work-in-progress, my sixth novel, and it's just as it was with the prior five. Tedium. Slow-going. Listless. Oh, I'm making progress. The way an ant makes "progress" trying to cross a field. At the end of the day, it's not in the same place as it was before--but it hasn't gotten very far, either.


So that's where I'm at with McJustice, a book I've been poking at for nearly ten years. I finally hunkered down five months ago to devote all my writing time to it. I completely changed the POV, worked out the plot kinks, I've got a solid ending in mind. And now I'm closing in on the two-thirds finished mark, and, my God, it's a drudge. 


Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've been here before. Every time, I've come to a point in a manuscript where I'm not close enough to the end to see the finish line, but I've made it so far into the run I couldn't possibly throw in the towel. It's the point where you're winded, your muscles are burning, and the miles aren't going by so much as taunting you. It's the doldrums of the first draft.  


How do you get through them? How do you work through that deathly becalmed part of the creative process?


Another take on "doldrums," this from oceannavigator.com: "For centuries sailors dreaded the aptly named Doldrums. This band of windless, hot, and humid weather near the equator could stall sailing ships for weeks, driving the crew to distraction with the monotony and sometimes even leading to the onset of scurvy as fresh supplies ran out. . . . Generally, voyagers want to minimize time spent in the [Doldrums] by crossing it as quickly as possible at its narrowest point and in an area with the fewest thunderstorms."


There you have it. You get through the doldrums by getting through them. As quickly as possible, through the narrowest means, and by avoiding making further storms.


That sounds about right.


Good sailing.


- Matt



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