Writing through the sticky, icky middle

I’m the middle of writing a new book now. I can’t tell you much about it because I’m superstitious about saying much about stuff I’m writing while it’s in progress. A lot of things change during the writing of a book, and hey, this book might never actually see the light of day — you never know in this business. But lately I’ve been going through a really sticky, icky part of the book: The Dreaded Middle.

I think a lot of writers get stuck here. They have some great ideas to launch the book, and the beginning can be really fun and exciting … and then they get to the middle, and … things just stop working … *muffled cry of anguish*

I’ve abandoned a lot of novels at this point. I’ve started so many books, getting totally caught up in world-building, making character lists, setting up drama — only to have the whole thing peter out after the first few chapters. There’s something extremely daunting about reaching the middle. You’ve got a long way to go till you get to the end, for one thing, and all sorts of things have to happen. Character development, plot machinations, boring transportation from point A to point B, etc.

It can be disheartening. I don’t really know any writers who haven’t experienced the sludge of getting through the middle, so if you’re in the middle right now, don’t worry: You’re not alone! And it often really does suck.

Recently I visited a high school book club, and a lot of the club’s members were also writers. Some of the questions they asked me were about the dreaded middle part of the book, somewhere along the lines of, “But how do I do it? What if I don’t know what to do?”

The answers I gave them were probably not very articulate because, honestly, getting through the dreaded middle is very hard. And there isn’t really an easy way through it. It kind of reminds me of getting through the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride. There are exploding gases everywhere and also Rodents of Unusual Size, but you have no choice but to get through it because there are no roads around the middle — there’s only directly through.


A few things do help me, though.

1. Know the ending. Some writers do not know the end that they’re writing toward, but I must always know the ending. This helps me endure the middle, because I know I’m building toward a goal. It’s a prize that gets closer and closer, the further I go through the middle.

2. Take it easy on yourself. Remember that the dreaded middle is difficult, so if you have a bad writing day, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over not writing fast enough or good enough or whatever enough. As long as you made forward progress, that’s great. You’re closer to getting through the middle!

3. Don’t give up. This is the hardest thing to do, but it might be the most important. You can’t let the dreaded middle prevent you from finishing. If you believe in your story, keep at it day after day after day. You don’t climb Mount Everest in one day; nor do you write a book in one day. You write a book one word, one page, one scene at a time.

That’s what I’m telling myself now, every day that I sit down with my work-in-progress. And it’s not like it’s all bad. Some days, the dreaded middle actually reveals some really interesting scenes — some jewels I didn’t know were there beneath the Fire Swamp.

And yeah, I can’t wait to get to the end. :)