Frustration Incarnate: Book Middles

I’m not a fan of middles, at least not when it comes to writing. I’ve been working on a book now for the past few months. It’s basically a YA Ocean’s Eleven–with magic. It’s ideally supposed to be a fun romp through an intricate fantasy underground. And from the responses of people who have read sections of it thus far, it’s succeeding.

If only writing it were proving to be as fun.

I’ve already blogged about how finding a character’s voice can be a tricky thing for me to nail down. (The biggest problem being switching from writing the end of one book–where the voice has had time to become very concrete and easy to write for me–over to the beginning of a non-sequel. My writing just keeps trying to veer back to that last voice, and it takes a lot of effort to avoid that.) But once the voice is down, then the book starts to pick up speed.

I’ve got the voice down now. I know the main character better. It’s easier to write what he’s thinking and how he’s responding to situations.

I know how the book begins. (I’ve now revised that–three times. It’ll likely be revised a couple more.) I know how it ends. (Less likely to be revised as heavily.) But sitting down to write the part I’m at right now–the middle–is just proving to be like pulling teeth. Getting that 1,000 words done each day is taking nothing less than pure determination. I sit down at the keyboard and stare at the screen, then find myself thinking of all the things I’d rather be doing. Checking Facebook. Twitter. The news. Writing a blog post. Cleaning the house. Mowing the lawn. Researching something.

Anything but actually writing.

I know this is stupid. Every day, I see firsthand how actually writing that 1,000 words isn’t as difficult as it seems at first. I barrel through it, and I’m done for the day. It’s a great feeling. But then the next day rolls around, and I’m right back there in front of that darn blank spot on the computer screen, watching the cursor blink and wishing it would just type itself.

Why is this such a difficult part?

I think it’s because the beginning is sort of like a puzzle, and I enjoy puzzles. Figuring out how pieces fit together. The ending is exciting. You get to write the build up to the climax and then have a great big scene. That’s a lot of fun. But getting from one point to another–in a way that’s interesting to audiences, and makes that big climax make sense . . .


Anyway. I don’t mean to complain too much. Really, this whole blog post is an illustration of my point. I’m writing this instead of getting my 1,000 words done. Which only postpones the inevitable.

Anyone out there have tips on how to handle the doldrums of the middle? Please share.

2 thoughts on “Frustration Incarnate: Book Middles”

  1. I’m a fan of outlines, but I’m also a fan of letting them breathe.

    What does that mean? Well, I might not stick to them. I’ll sketch out how a story begins, have an idea of what I want the end to look like (and the arc it’ll take to get me there), and outline bits of the middle in more detail as I go.

    Having TOO detailed an outline at the outset, for me, squeezes all the joy out of the process. If the act of writing does not have the capacity to surprise me, then, guess what? I get bored. Surprises are what make life, and writing, so interesting. Too much routine, too much similarity, not enough variety, and you get doldrums.

    The reader doesn’t see the doldrums because, when they start off reading, they are already given the benefit of an outline that breathes: the blurb on the back of the book. They know enough to be interested, but not enough to know how it’s all going to shake out. And this works. People get curious. They get motivated to read. So why not use this technique (albeit a little modified) to help yourself write?

    Sometimes, when I’m REALLY stuck in a rough patch–beginning, middle, even end–I’ll work totally blind. That is, I’ll go off the outline entirely, and just keep writing. I may have a false start or two, but for me, this always, always, always works and takes me through where outlining fails, until I’m at a spot where I can find a path again. I think strong, healthy, sustainable creativity is a balance between spontaneity and control, and since “control” is the often the more difficult skill for aspiring artists to learn, we tend to think that when the going gets hard, control is surely what’s going to save us.

    Well, not necessarily.

    Control is what eventually makes an artist talented and successful. But spontaneity is what makes an artist in the first place. You shouldn’t be afraid to call on it.

  2. I do pretty much the same thing, typically. I’ll outline, but I’ll often end up with something wildly different. Having the outline helps keep me focused. I’ve written entire novels blind, as you say–and they’ve been a real pain to revise into a workable shape at the end.

    The problem I was having in this instance was that I thought I knew the whole story, but I had inadvertently left out a very important “How They Get from A to B” part that needed to be ironed out for the rest of it to make sense.

    Then again, every story I’ve written is in large part a struggle with trying to figure it out as I go along . . .

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