Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Surviving The Murky Middle

Writing the beginnings and endings of books is easier (I wouldn't dare say easy) than The Murky Middle.  The middle is where the really cool stuff should happen.  It's where you want to keep the reader's heartbeat on edge, ensure that each page is turned feverishly, and write clever cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter.  It also happens to be the toughest part about writing a book because it's where you can begin to question your sanity and why you began to write the dang book in the first place.  It's usually the place where most writers throw up their hands and give up.  Hey, been there; done, that.

But don't give up.

Here are a few things that I've done to help me survive The Murky Middle and even finish a novel or two:

1) Buy yourself a white board.  Or a bulletin board.  Something you can keep on your wall, preferably right in front of or close to your laptop.  I'm not much of a plotter but I find that it helps to go a little outline-anal when it comes to the middle. (My freshman college composition teacher would be so proud, although Roman numerals still make me shudder!) It helps you to connect the dots from Point A to Point B.

2) When you get frustrated, step away from your laptop.  It's OKAY to take a break from writing.  (Believe me, this is easier said than done but sometimes it's the only thing that works.)  Remember that the sky won't open and swallow you whole.  If you can't pry your fingers from the keyboard, try a writing exercise.  My favorite is to try to write a 100-word sentence with no punctuation.  It can be about anything--an object in your office, a person, a voice in your head--anything--as long as it's not even remotely related to your WIP.  The point is to clear your head so you'll return to your WIP with a clear mind.

3) Read a book.  I can't tell you how often I find inspiration from other authors.  When I'm in the middle of writing my WIP, I like to read other books in a similar genre.  Since I'm in the middle of finishing a first draft of an Apache legend, I like to read a lot of historicals, Westerns, anything with adventure, suspense, and a fast pace.  If that doesn't work, try writing a novella on the side.  There's something to be said for writing two WIPs at once and alternating between the two.  Right now, I've got three going--yes, three.  My current WIP, a contemporary romance, and a novella Christmas story.

4) Finally, don't overwhelm yourself by thinking, "Gee, I've got to write another 60,000 words or this WIP is toast.  Tackle it in chunks.  Focus on a chapter at a time.  Remind yourself that it's a first draft.  It's not supposed to be perfect.  There will be plenty of time for editing.  Yada yada yada.

Yes, that's my two cents.  Most of the time I follow my own advice.  :-)  When all else fails, massive amounts of chocolate always dulls the pain.

How do you survive The Murky Middle?

12 comments:

Donna Cummings said...

These are all really great suggestions. I have a harder time taking a break from the writing, though, because I feel guilty. LOL I also love to write something else as a break. I had a completely random scene come to the mind the other day and just jotted it down. Who knows what I'll use it for? :)

Lydia K said...

That's worth more than two cents.
;)

I have serious middle problems in my WIP, so this is timely.

Madeleine said...

I start reading How to Books and realise I need to competely rethink the whole plot LOL! :O)

Shallee said...

I hold my breath and plow through, then rip it to shreds in rewrites. :)

These are great suggestions! Thanks for sharing.

Beth Elisa Harris said...

My blog this week is about final edits http://bethelisaharris.blogspot.com/2011/03/final-edits-no-really.html
so you are speaking my lingo, sister! It is there, within the murky middle, that the tweaks continue. Love my beginning, love my ending. I will continue tweaking (not to be confused with tweeting) until the voices silence themselves, although I am hopeful this is the last one...but I said that two weeks ago.

Christine Tyler said...

My favorite tip here is the white-board. Not only is any excuse to buy a new white-board AWESOME, but I think a lot of writers think they're pantsers, when they really could benefit from plotting things out.

I am a list person. When I'm stuck, I write lists.

Laura Howard said...

I'm trudging through the middle myself! :) I find that going for a drive really helps clear my mind. All of your advice is great, I completely agree with the whiteboard idea. I never was a plotter but being prepared saves time and alot of frustration!!!

Kari Marie said...

Muddles are tough (sez the girl who's only written one book). I stalled out, took a break, and killed a character to get moving again.

Nas Dean said...

This post is seriously worth more than two cents! It's invaluable!

Deniz Bevan said...

These are great suggestions - I haven't tried the white board one yet! Though I did finally make a calendar of events in the wip the other day... And I'm plannig a reading weekend this weekend - no computer, no phone, no distractions...

Liz Fichera said...

I've been visiting a lot of blogs this week and, boy howdy, it seems I'm not the only one who struggles with The Murkey Middle. One other writer put it like this: It's the muddle in the middle. "Muddle" is my new favorite word this week!

J.L. Campbell said...

Good points. Stepping away does wonders and gives me a fresh perspective. Reading a good book helps pass the time when I'm not writing and keeps me sane.