Stuck in the Middle

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I’m at that point in my work-in-progress, smack in the middle, where writing feels a bit like drudgery. The excitement of starting something new has long since worn off, and I’m approaching the moment when I feel like the whole story is going off the rails. For me, this uncomfortable spot hits around thirty thousand words – I’m well into things but still so far from the finish line! This isn’t my first rodeo though, and I recognize this moment well. I’ve also learned a few tricks that help me push through it, and I’m happy to share them.

Build the sub-plots.

The main storyline is set up by now and well underway. It’s time for the characters to hit a few speed bumps. Now is the time to flesh out some of the sub-plots, and figure out how those interesting detours fit into the whole. It’s a good time to refocus on your character’s goals, and who or what stands in the way of reaching them. Sometimes that little reminder is enough to reinvigorate the process and illuminate more possibilities for conflict and growth.  

Outline the next section.

With a new project, I’ll work out the main storyline before I start writing, but I won’t have figured out all the plot details. Once I’ve arrived at the sticky middle, and need to flesh out those sub-plots, I’ll often take a short break from writing and return to outlining. Thinking through the major plot tangles, and finding an exciting solution, can invigorate my writing process. When I write those new scenes or sub-plots, the process feels smoother because I’ve already worked out some of the details.

Know what you’re going to write tomorrow.

This is a trick I mention frequently, but it really helps. Before I finish a writing session for the day, I know where I’m going tomorrow. That may mean leaving off in the middle of an exciting scene so I’m eager to get back to it. Or, it may mean ending a few minutes early and thinking through the next section so I can jump right into it the next day. When I’ve finished a scene or a chapter, and I don’t know exactly where I’m going next, my plan for the next day may be a return to outlining – see above.

Stay in it.

Usually this works for me. I have to keep my head in the story and try to write something every day, even if it’s only a few paragraphs. Otherwise, I lose the thread and it takes longer to re-immerse myself.

Take a break.

But sometimes, I need to do the opposite. I have to step away and let the story settle. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. I’m simply giving my subconscious a chance to find new solutions, a fresh perspective, a deeper dive into my character’s psyche. When I return, I feel refreshed and excited to come back into my fictional world.

Talk it out.

During a break, I find talking about my book brings back my enthusiasm. When discussing the characters or plot over cocktails with a friend, I realize it really is a good story. I really do have a lot of it already worked out. And in the places where I’m struggling, the fresh perspective of a friend or writing colleague can make all the difference.

The middle of your manuscript is the place where you have to dig deep and find the wherewithal to make it to the end. The ability to do so is the difference between saying you want to write a book and actually writing a book. While this particular book may never see the light of day, there are good reasons to finish anyway. Here’s an article on why: Just Finish! You’ll be Glad You Did. Bottom line, we all struggle in the middle of our manuscript sometimes, but it’s worth finding your way through to the other side.

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About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

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