Merciless Middle Ground

After spending nearly 33,000 words to begin a tale that in my mind spans a trilogy of epic adventures, I’m finding motivation to continue investing time and talent elusive. From successful writers (unlike me), I’m learning that this malady commonly strikes writers when they reach the middle of a story.

It’s frustrating to me because I know where I want the story to go. There are a few blurry areas, but I’m sure my characters will guide me through those portions. Why can’t I write it then?

You know I’m going to play the “I’ve been so busy” card. It’s a favorite ploy of Type A overachievers such as myself. Our poor, over-inflated and highly sensitive egos couldn’t handle the truth. (Jack Nicholson, “You can’t handle the truth!”)

Time for a reality check. I’m tired. I’m sick of school and work and my creativity feels like it’s abandoned ship. Eking out three blog posts a week feels like ripping out my fingernails and toenails at the same time.

Recently, I’ve seen some advice from other writers (like this one from Kristen Lamb, my blogging guru). I’ve been trying to check out more blogs, hoping some of the creative talent from these successful scriveners will rub off on me. (Or maybe it’s just another work avoidance tactic. My students may be teaching me something after all!)

This is the advice for this “block” that occurs in the “middle” of a writing project:

  1. Write the ending. Once the ending is there, it shines a light, guiding the rest of the story.
  2. Write about the characters or the setting or what will happen in the next chapter until you find the words for the point in the story where you’ve stalled.
  3. Take a break from the story, but not the characters. Journal their thoughts at the moment you left them. Get inside their minds until their psyche pushes the words onto the blank page.
  4. Start something new. Perhaps the story isn’t destined to work. If it is, it will rise up again later and you can return to it then.
  5. DON’T start anything else. Write. Put your seat in the chair and put words on the page. If you delete them all later, no one cares. The important thing is to keep writing – on this project. If you want to be a finisher, you must keep on keeping on.

What’s your advice for writers like me who get stuck in the middle and lose interest in writing their story? When is the right time to give up? When should we push through even if we hate the writing?

9 thoughts on “Merciless Middle Ground

  1. Try taking a day to re-read what you’ve written so far. Then see if the next line comes easy. If not, leave it alone for a week and then re-read again what you have so far. Perhaps think about the stall-point in odd moments. Eventually, something will come to you. Next time you pause in writing, after you get going again, try stopping at a fun scene or something you have lots of ideas for. It’s possible you’ve stalled because you’re on a scene you’re just not that interested in. Is that scene necessary at all?

    1. Holly-
      Thanks for all your great advice.
      I have been thinking about the current scene often. I think one reason I’ve stalled is because there are several things I want to reveal about the main characters and I’m unsure how to proceed and keep the suspended disbelief of the reader intact.
      Also, this is going to be a major turning point in the “mission” the hero has undertaken and I’m not positive I’ve laid enough groundwork to make the change viable. Of course, I can always go back and add more foreshadowing in my rewrite.
      –Sharon

      1. Perhaps some of those reveals could come slightly earlier or later? Or, as you say, a few more hints could be laid beforehand. As always though, until you have a first draft you can’t tinker with it to make it perfect.

  2. It sounds pretty normal. What’s that famous quote about not being able to see past your headlights when writing a novel but eventually getting there anyway? Good luck!

  3. You’re totally experiencing what I call the 30,000 word point.

    Last year, I wrote 13 novels, each of them 50,000 words long, and there wasn’t a single novel that didn’t fall to pieces just like you’re describing at around 30,000 words. (I even wrote a post about it around October, I believe.)

    Usually what I had to do – especially when I knew the ending, was to give up my need to write well and just start meandering through the story until I got through the stuck bit. Usually around 3:00 am, a flash of insight would happen that put it all together, normally something I had in the text already and I had not seen yet.

    But for sure the 30,000 word slump is a good thing! It means you’ve created a story that needs work to get trough, and that is also a challenge for writers.

    Whatever you do, don’t quit or analyze. Just write through it, even if your writing is awful and you end up recapping the plot over and over. You’ll get out of this eventually.

    1. Wow! This is great news. Sometimes I feel so isolated in my struggles.
      Yes, I need to keep writing.
      Thanks for the encouragement. It makes me want to go write – right now!

      1. Excellent! I’m always happy to help – my project last year taught me many things, but mostly it taught me that the solution is always to write and keep writing, even if all we can make is hopeless crap for a while. 🙂

  4. keep writing! I like the ideas you found, journal from your character’s perspective! You can do it!!!!come on little engine! and wow! maybe that trip to the sunshine will warm your creativity also!!! New environment, new experiences, new sights!

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