What About That Middle? by Christine Husom

Almost everyone who has written a fiction novel has a similar experience, often about mid-point, but it could happen anywhere in the manuscript. It’s the “NOW what should I write?” moment. The moment that can span into hours, or days, or cause you to abandon your work completely. You know what I’m talking about.

You panic because you didn’t expect it to happen with this book. The concept and characters are clear in your mind. You know the beginning. You know the end. You have the key plot points. You sat down and slammed out the first chapters with relative ease. Then you hit the wall.

You put something down to fill the shockingly blank white space, but it sounds dumb, so you delete it. You decide to jump ahead to the next chapter, but you’re no longer sure what the next chapter should be. And to make matters worse, in that state of mind, everything you’ve written in the book so far seems stupid.

Hold it right there. Turn off those negative thoughts, and focus on why you’re writing the book in the first place. It might be for self-satisfaction. It might be because you have a story you believe has the potential to be the next great American novel. It might be because you have a following of readers who love your books. Any of those reasons, and many more, give validity to finishing your book.

What will enable you get that next bit on paper? I’ve tried a number of things when I reach a standstill. Maybe one of them will help you.

  • Talk to someone, and ask their opinion. Give him a summary of what you’ve written, and where you want to go. That person may have an idea you can’t use, or may not have an idea at all, but it could get your creative juices flowing again. Like any problem, when you tell someone else, it doesn’t seem so bad.
  • Ask yourself if you’re bored. Are you at that stopping point because the last scene, or action was off somehow. Maybe you don’t like one of your characters and that’s slowing you down. Reread what you’ve written with an open mind and see what happens.
  • You have your plot carefully outlined, but you don’t like the way it’s shaping up. Give yourself permission to change things up. My characters have taken me on some unexpected journeys during the course of a story. And their surprising actions or spoken words are better than the ones I had planned.
  • Sit down with a blank piece of paper and do some free-style writing. Choose a word, i.e. red, and write without conscious thought for a minute or two. This simple activity can help get the creative juices flowing.
  • Read another author’s book, and tell yourself, “She did it, and so can I.”
  • Go for a run, or walk, or do arm circles, or some other physical activity. I have mentally written many scenes, and worked out countless character and scene problems while jogging. I have titled my books, named characters and figured out why they are so named, etc. There is something to be said for releasing those endorphins.  Two great advantages–they’re free and easy to access.
  • Jump ahead to a later point in the book. For the mystery I’m working on, I wrote the end first because it came to me, and I needed to get it on paper. In another book, I wrote several scenes and plugged them in when the time seemed right. Having a few scenes in your file might give you what you need when you’re stuck.

There are some hopefully helpful ideas. What techniques have you used when you’re stuck? I’d love to hear about them.

Christine Husom is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River.

13 Comments

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13 responses to “What About That Middle? by Christine Husom

  1. You’re going to hate me, Christine; but I’ve never had happen to me what you describe here. I’ve never hit that brick wall, unsure what I’m going to write, despising as dumb what I’ve written. Although I’ve been known to delete something, it’s usually not until a subsequent draft, and only then it’s because I’ve determined it adds little to the story.

    Never have I put a major project on hold because another idea for another project took precedence. I’m in it for the long haul and finish what I start. That’s not to say it’s always a cake walk. I certainly face obstacles; but I long ago learned to trust my instincts. I’ve only ever written the ending to one novel before it was time, and that was for A Retrospect in Death. It came to me about two-thirds of the way through, and it was so clear to me I was moved to get it down on paper for fear it would lose its clarity if I waited. When I finally got to the end, that ending I’d written months before got a few tweaks, but essentially remained as I’d written it.

  2. Christine, I’ve only written one book, so I may not be effectively qualified to answer your question, but, I didn’t hit a wall either in my book. I’d had it in my head so long, I had many scenes I wanted to include and they just flowed into my manuscript. However, I did find that the days I was more focused produced better writing. I also edited a LOT as I went along, pouring over sentences, trying to make them say exactly what I had in my head. Each day, I would start out re-reading the previous day’s work and that helped me get totally into the story once more. I also relied on my research material a great deal to give me interesting tid bits to include.

  3. Sherrie Hansen

    Great advice, Chris. And great timing, too. I’m in the middle of this right now. For me, I think it stems from the fact that I simply have too much going on in my life right now, and my brain is on overload. My theory is that if I get a few small parts of my life and my various houses back in order, that I will have at least part of my brain’s resources back and the flow will start again.

  4. Another trick I’ve tried with success is starting on another writing project. Sometimes another story is rattling around between my ears and I “throw it a bone” by writing 5 to 10K words. Usually then the next story will back off and leave me alone while I finish what I was working on originally. Stories tend to pester me until they get written, and when the one I’m working on realizes I’m paying attention to another, it really starts nagging me to finish it.

    • Your works really are like your kids! But that’s a technique I might try, Mike. During the course of writing my current WIP, I was tempted to abandon it a few times because Corky’s next adventure keeps trying to get me to write it.

  5. Going for a walk (with dog) was always my technique. Lacking dog there’s less incentive to go out in the rain so I usually read something else for a while instead.

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