I have tried writing a novel several times in the last few years. Nine years to be exact. I just looked at my flash drive and my first novel attempt began in the Fall of 2006. Since that time I have started three different novels (two of them more than once) and inevitably I would always get stuck in the middle.
I had fairly developed ideas, at least I thought so at the time. I knew my characters, how the stories would start, and how I wanted the stories to end / my characters to change — but I couldn’t connect the dots. I didn’t know how to get from A to Z. Sometimes I would get as far as J-K-L-M before I would G-I-V-E-U-P.
For me, the middle is like a wasteland. I wander with no sense of direction. I use up all my energy worrying I will never get across. I die in middle.
At the beginning of this month I had a little over 30k words written on my current novel. (And I have learned the average novel is around 80k words, give or take.) I have had these same words since May of his year. I didn’t write anything new for four months. Granted we added a child to our family during that time, but I think I was using that as a reason to avoid the fact that I was stuck. Stuck at the same place I got stuck last time I tried to write this story. (FYI I have been trying to write this particular novel since 2011. Third times a charm.)
So instead of doing what I usually do at the middle (which is failing) I tried something new. Here are some things I have discovered:
Know your weakness — I know that middles are my nemesis, so I sought out specific resources and strategies to help me through them. And they really did, like Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell. This totally changed the way I view middles.
Know your strengths — I am a planner when it comes to practically everything, certainly when it comes to crafting stories and building plots. So outlining my novel is one of my favorite things to do. I love thinking through the entire story and imagining all the possibilities before I write a single word. Part of the reason I had such a hard time writing the middle of my novel was because I didn’t know what would happen — I hadn’t thought about it enough. Once I allowed myself to stop trying to “write it” and go back to the drawing board (back to the outline) I was able to solve some of my hang ups and press through. Sometimes you have to go back in order to go forward. (I really like The Snowflake Method and The 8C’s to Plotting for developing story ideas.)
Stop trying to writing something good — I mean this two-fold: first I had to stop worrying about how good (or bad) my writing was. It is better to write a crappy sentence (or 100 crappy sentences) than to write one “perfect” one. Because good writing rarely comes from first tries — it comes from revising. And as the adage goes “You can’t revise a blank page”. Once I embraced the idea that I can have good writing, as good as I want, simply by revising until I am happy, I was able to let go of my need for my sentences to be perfect.
And secondly, I had to stop censoring myself. Life isn’t always pretty or kind and if you want to write something real/authentic, something that tells the truth that people can connect to, it might not always be “good”. I had to stop worrying what people would think about it and just write what was in my heart, even if it wasn’t “good”, whatever that means. I just know it was a hang up for me, and it kept me from moving forward. So I freed myself from limitations and expectations (by making a choice) and it’s been a much easier experience since that moment.
I am currently at a little over 70k words and on target to meet my goal, which is to finish my draft by November 30th (probably another 20k or so words to go, and 13 days left to do it). It feels good to have overcome the obstacles that have kept me down for so long. I can’t wait to finish this draft. The novel will still be far from finished but I will be standing in a place I’ve never been before — the place that comes after the middle!
What keeps you stuck when it comes to your goals?