So, day one of my new blog a day for a year regime, and I think I’ve got exactly the topic.
At first, I sat down with a pad and noted down a few blog ideas, but then I decided it’d be best if I just tackle issues I’m experiencing, or things I’ve learned. I like to learn something new every day, so technically, this shouldn’t be hard.
And this particular topic is something that many, many writers struggle with, both amateurs and long term professionals: the mid-book struggle.
The mid-book struggle is exactly what it says on the tin. You can start up a new project, go into it with enthusiasm, passion, with clear thoughts. You might have a target of a thousand words a day, finding yourself smashing that target and raising the bar.
And then something happens.
It’s around the middle. Always around the middle. You start thinking about new ideas. Start imagining new books, new characters. The writing becomes a slog. The average daily word count dips to around your target, and then before you know it your target is a struggle, and then there just “isn’t enough time in the day”.
Hell, if you’re a believer in falsehoods, you might well just convince yourself you’ve caught a bout of the old writer’s block.
The truth is, the mid-book struggle is a very real thing. And I believe there are some very good reasons for it. Some technical reasons. I’d say scientific, but I’d be bullshitting, so we’ll go with technical.
And with all things technical, there are ways to conquer this slump and get you enjoying your book as you power towards the end.
A little context: I’m working on a book called Sunlight at the moment. I’m about 40,000 words into the first draft. Like all of my projects, I came into it thinking it was the best thing ever. Now? I’ve reached the mid-book struggle.
How do I know I’ve reached the mid-book struggle? Well, for me, I start finding other things to do. Finding ways to distract myself. Taking the dog for a walk. Doing other “productive” things like blogging (guilty as charged). Raiding the cupboards for biscuits.
But I experience other hurdles too. Like, my keyboard actually feels different. My words feel clunkier. My focus drifts. I can’t wait to just get started on the next project.
If I were a quitter, or if I believed in the falsehood of writer’s block, I wouldn’t have seven novels to my name right now. I’d be just another failed aspiring writer.
But as it stands, I do, and I’m not. So I must be doing something right.
How to conquer the mid-book struggle
I believe that the first step in conquering the mid-book struggle is this: accept it.
Yes, I did just tell you to accept something that seems to be wrecking your work in progress. But it’s like all things in life: you can accept the things you’re terrified of, or you can deny them.
Deny them, while you procrastinate some more.
Deny them, while you tell yourself that dipping below your word count for five days straight is fine.
Deny them, when you ditch this project, and then the next project, and then the project after that.
The mid-book struggle is real. It’s a psychological block. A barrier that we put in front of ourselves. I’d say those of us with short attention spans (*hand in the air*) suffer from it slightly more, but we’re all susceptible.
Me? Like I say, I get bored easily. I want to create new characters. Play in new words. Some people struggle because they want their first draft to be perfect, others get fed up and stop “finding the time”.
Accept the mid-book struggle. Ask yourself why you might be experiencing it. Pin it on the wall above your desk to remind yourself about it when you’re struggling again in future. For acceptance is the first stage of conquering a problem.
What’s the second step?
Start your book afresh.
Wait, what?! I’ve already got 40,000 words down. Why the hell would I start it again?
Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting you throw your work away. Rather, remind yourself what it was that excited you about your book in the first place. That might be going back to your plan, making a few tweaks. Or if you’re a pantser, it might be going back and reading the story in first draft form so far, thinking up new ideas all the way.
But mostly, it’s just learning to take a deep breath and going in to enjoy the project again. Reconnecting with the raw energy that inspired you to write the damned thing in the first place. After all, what’s the point in writing something if you aren’t enjoying the process? This is creative writing at the end of the day. It shouldn’t be a chore, no matter what anyone tells you.
It’s playing on paper.
I tried going back to the start and messing around with my plan. What if I’m still stuck in a rut?
You’re not going to like this answer, but it’s as simple as this: get yourself down in the chair and write some frigging words.
They don’t have to be amazing words. Don’t try to be Shakespeare. Just sit down and write. Advance your story. Enjoy yourself.
The problem with the middle of any book is that it doesn’t have any set rules. You can write what you want as long as it is advancing the core conflict of the story.
Many people find this terrifying. For at the start of a book, you are setting up events to come. In the final act, you are concluding them. No surprise that the middle of the book is the area that most critics disagree about. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find two people who agree about the exact mechanics of the middle of a book.
So change your perspective of the middle. View it as LIBERATING rather than scary.
You have a chance to play around with words. A chance to advance your story. A chance to develop your characters, make them more complex. So just enjoy yourself. Tell yourself a story.
After all, isn’t that the point? The mid-book struggle stops becoming a struggle when you blow a few things up, metaphorically or literally, so blow shit up! Enjoy it!
Before you know it, you’ll be at the end, and then it’ll be on with the next book that you were so excited about during that mid-book struggle.
The mid-book struggle is real. It’s motivationally based, and it’s motivationally conquered.
So get sat in the chair. Get pounding out the words, even if you hate them. It’s much better than the alternative: another scrapped project.
Play with words.
I tend to struggle at about the thirty thousand word mark. Not writer’s block, more like what you said, getting a bit bored and wanting to start something new. Going back to the beginning and editing helps me a lot, as I pick up little seeds I planted along the way and if I like them, I develop them into something bigger. Doing this seems to inject a new twist or give one of my characters a change of direction. It works for me, anyway, and gives me a fresh perspective on the storyline. Great post Ryan.
The 30,000 mark definitely seems like a hurdle point. Just far away enough from the start to lose its freshness, and not close enough to the end to start powering to the finish line.
Sounds like you have a good method for getting through this.
I hit this at about 20-30k into a 65k project. It seems tired, awful, so bad I must stop. I sometimes stop writing & plan some more. Or I carry on carrying on & write through the ‘crap’ feeling. When I review it I can never see the difference between the ‘flying high’ days and the ‘this is all crap’ days. Nope. It all reads the same as I read the first draft. Proves it’s in my mind. Thanks for the tips.
Good point regarding the not being able to tell the difference afterwards. Sounds like another blog topic for another day!