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This Writing Life: Stuck in the Middle

30 August, 2010

There seems to come a point in every novel – or at least every novel I’ve written, and sometimes more than one point – where you get stuck. Inevitably, this point falls somewhere in the middle of the novel. It’s a bit like being becalmed at sea: you sailed out from the port (the start of the novel) and you know your destination (the end, of course) but somewhere along the way you get stuck in a current you needed to avoid or the wind dies away and you lose all momentum. These same things can easily happen to the plot in the middle of a novel. You either start following a plot line that becomes irrelevant or you simply don’t know what to write next.

I’m in something approaching this latter position at the moment. The start of the novel I’m writing isn’t bad, and I have an explosive ending in mind, but how to get there? I’ve practically overwhelmed myself with plot lines I want to carry through and things I want to happen, but which order should they happen in? I dread getting to the end of each scene, because then I have to stop and ask myself what comes next. And sometimes, I have no idea.

I’ve currently come to the conclusion that there are two methods needed for working through the doldrums of the middle. One is logic and the other is a blatant disregard for mistakes. (I’m not counting sheer bloody-minded determination here, because that’s something you need for the whole novel, not just the middle; for your whole writing career, in fact.)

The logic part is quite simple, particularly as I’m writing from a single, first-person POV. At the end of each scene, I say to myself not ‘What needs to happen next?’ but ‘What would my character do next?’ I get inside her head and work out what she’d choose to do and why. From there, I can feed in the information she needs to discover in each scene and where it comes from.

The second point is just as simple, though a bit harder to cultivate. When writing the first draft of a novel, the only way to forge through to the end is to ignore the mistakes you make in the middle. And you are bound to make mistakes, but if you spend all your time thinking about them, you’ll never move forwards. Notice the mistakes, yes, and maybe even make note of them, but leave them be. When you come back to revise the book, you can sort them out, but the old adage of ‘you can’t revise a blank page’ is certainly true. You need to have written a crappy first draft to be able to revise something into a much less crappy finished book.

These, then, are the things I tell myself anyway, when I’m stuck in the middle of the book. Maybe if I tell myself them often enough, I won’t get stuck in the middle again. Okay, that’s pure wishful thinking, but at least when I do get stuck, I’ll know what to do.

  1. 30 August, 2010 9:56 am

    Best of luck pushing through the rough spots. I’m sure that the end result will be well worth the frustration while getting there.

    • 30 August, 2010 11:47 am

      Thanks Josh. You’re right – despite all the frustration, getting to the end is worth every bit of the pain it takes to get there. It’s sometimes just difficult to remember that along the way!

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