Whether you are aiming for 50,000 words written this month (NaNoWriMo) or you’re in the middle of your years-long writing project, middles are hard. You know when you’ve reached the middle of a writing project because your inspiration evaporates, leaving you with a desire to do anything, everything except write.
You rake the leaves, clean the house, read a book, watch TV, or play a game. Stop avoiding your writing. When inspiration wanes, don’t beat your head against a wall. There are ways you can nudge your muse (or subconscious) and your slog will turn into a race to get the words down.
NANOWRIMO participant or not, you’ve probably spent more time writing than taking care of yourself. Recharge your body and mind and creativity.
Do something physical: stretch, take a walk, garden, or play a sport. Scientific research has shown that “physical exercise may sometimes enhance creativity…”
Another aspect of caring for your physical health is getting enough sleep. Your physical health and creativity suffer when you work your brain too hard. While there are some of us who get our “best ideas” when fatigued, chronic fatigue is a health problem. Sleep restores the brain physically, mentally, and creatively. Take a nap. Do a repetitive chore that doesn’t need brain power. Or zone out in your favorite pastime activity.
Recharge by re-filling your creative well. Depending upon your personality and preferences, you refill your creative well when you read, listen to music, draw, visit a museum. Madeline Le’Engle states that “playing the piano is, for me, a way of getting unstuck.”
It doesn’t have to take a long time to recharge. Experiment with doing this daily versus weekly. Even fifteen minutes of exercise, or of practicing a different type of creativity, or a rest will help. Choose the best intervals and durations for you. But include a recharge in your schedule and then do it.
Does your inner voice nag you with “this is no good” or “I can’t do this?” You’re not alone. Many writers suffer doubts about their skills when they reach the saggy middle of their book. Remind your inner voice that is a first draft (or whatever draft it is) is not supposed to be perfect. That you will go back and fix it. This can be easier to do if you’ve completed other stories, but sometimes it is extremely difficult whether you are a novice or have dozens of published books. Keep doing it. Practice makes it easier no matter your experience level.
The middle is the largest portion of your story. The first half of the middle is your protagonist exploring and testing the limits of the problem. Complications and obstacles keep her from her goal. At the end of the first half, there’s an event that gives the protagonist a false win or loss. It causes a change in how the protagonist views the problem and how to approach the problem during the second half of the middle. Find more about story structure in the books Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Plot & Structure and Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell. Or check out the resource page here on Writers in the Storm.
You can put your inspiration back on the page. Re-read the first part you’ve written. Your muse has inserted hidden gems into your story. What are hidden gems? Hints that are seed into what you’ve already written. Hints your characters give about what happens next or what they want, hints that build tension, hints on how the story world will impact your characters. Take one of those hints and make it a subplot in your middle.
Or simply journal about your novel in your own voice. Do a brain dump. Write down why you chose to write this story. Include any shoulds or should nots you have running around in your head. Argue with yourself why this next step will or won’t work. Your written discussion may show you the best next step. Don’t forget to complement yourself for having reached the middle. Your own words may surprise you with the answer you knew all along.
What types of obstacles have you put up for your protagonist to overcome? Are they mostly physical, all mental, or heavily emotional? What type of obstacle was the last one? Mix it up. Change the type of obstacle your protagonist faces next.
Ask yourself what the antagonist (or any character or environment) will do to create an obstacle that forces your protagonist to change tactics. How will this obstacle increase the stakes for your protagonist? How will the antagonist change her tactics to keep the protagonist at bay?
Similar to twist the challenge, this time you ask yourself what your protagonist will do to keep the antagonist guessing. How will she force the antagonist’s next move to be one that is favorable to her? And the follow-up question: How will this fail or succeed?
This sentence gives a brief description of what your character is doing in the scene, who or what causes a complication or obstacle, and what your character does next. Find the more detailed description of the scene sentence in my post, “Create a Compelling Plot with What-But-Therefore”.
According to James Scott Bell, and others, the last half of the story should mirror the first half. Read the first half of your story. What actions can your character take mirroring or reflecting the beginning? What wouldn’t your protagonist do at the beginning that she must do now? In fact, many how-to-write gurus refer to the end of the second half of the middle as the look back. Usually after a resounding defeat, the protagonist reflects on the challenge ahead with a bleak dread. (The reverse can also work.) What does your protagonist dread?
Here at Writers in the Storm, we have several authors who gave brilliant suggestions on how to change your slog into a suspense-filled ride. Read Donna Galanti’s “Building Suspense: Meet Your Readers in the Middle and They Will Come”, or “A Simple Tip to Help Get Rid of Saggy Middles” and “Panties or Protein Powder? How to Tighten a Saggy Middle” both by Fae Rowen.
It takes a combination of inspiration, intuition, and knowledge to create a story. Some writers focus on one or the other of these three. If that works for you, great. But all of us get stuck once in a while. If your inspiration wanes, don’t despair. There are many ways to spur your inspiration rather than just soldiering on or giving up. Be prepared. Keep a list of things to try. Experiment. Find what works for you and for this story. And write on!
What do you do when your inspiration wanes? Do you keep a list of things to try?
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Lynette M. Burrows is an author, blogger, Yorkie wrangler, and occasional stained glass technician. She writes character-driven science fiction filled with discovery, inner strength, determination, and courageous choices.
Her fast-paced series the Fellowship Dystopia, takes place in 1961 and America’s a theocracy. Following the rules isn’t optional. Not even for one of the elite. The first two books, My Soul to Keep, If I Should Die, and the companion book, Fellowship, are available on Amazon and all online bookseller sites. She is hard at work on the third book of the series, And When I Wake.
Lynette lives in the land of Oz. When she’s not procrastinating by not doing housework or playing with her dogs, she’s blogging or writing or researching her next book. Join Lynette online at https://lynettemburrows.com, Facebook.com/LynetteMBurrowsAuthor, or on Twitter @LynetteMBurrows.
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