Managing the Mushy Middle

If you woke up this morning thinking, “You know, I’d really like to hear an incremental progress report on the collaborative work of two unpublished authors” then today is your lucky day, my friend. It is my pleasure to announce that the rough draft of our “aliens meet clockwork robots meet romantic fantasy” story has just crossed the planned halfway mark of fifty thousand words!

Since we’re here at the halfway point, I thought this might be a good time to bring up something I hear a lot of authors out there struggling with. It’s a little condition I like to call Midpoint Malaise.

Based on the data derived from me sitting here and thinking about it for about thirty seconds I believe that I can state conclusively that Midpoint Malaise is the single biggest reason novels don’t get finished. It’s that part of the story where you’ve started to fall out of love a little bit with the idea of writing your novel. Maybe the plot has started to go astray from what you thought you knew. The map has gone fuzzy, and you’re not sure which road is the right road to take you through to your grand finale ending.

So you get discouraged. You stop writing for a few days. And a few days turns into a few weeks, and after that you go back and look at your manuscript and think, “Unholy Cthulhu, did I write this? What was I thinking? This is terrible.”

And so you quit.

Well gents and lady-gents, I’m here to set you straight. First, and possibly most important, it’s okay to hate your manuscript. In fact I’d say at some point it’s inevitable. You know why? Because your manuscript sucks. Not all of it, probably, but parts of it? Sure. It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck.

The problem isn’t that you’re a terrible writer. You may be a terrible writer, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is that you stopped. You got bored. You lost your momentum. And now you hate your work so much you may never finish it.

Because, lets face it, the middle ain’t sexy.

Beginnings are sexy. You’re full of the flush of new ideas, and you’ve got it all lined up in your head, and when those first words spill out onto the page it’s pure magic.

Endings are sexy. There’s stuff blowing up, the bad guy finally gets vanquished, the hero gets the girl, and the world is saved.

But middles aren’t sexy. You’re developing characters, working through plot points, struggling desperately not to get sucked into the gears of the machine that is the story you’ve created.

But there is a cure for Midpoint Malaise, and it’s a healthy dose of So What? Cream.

So you’ve started to fall out of love with your story? So What? So you dread the time you have to sit down in front of the keyboard and think through those words? So What?

Because if you’re gonna do this writing thing, you need to know that it isn’t all going to be fireworks and unicorns. Some of it is going to be boring, menial, mundane work.

Most of you know this already. But maybe you needed to be reminded. I know I need my butt kicked into action every now and then.

Don’t get discouraged. Keep fighting the good fight. And whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep that momentum rolling and you can accomplish great things.

20 responses to “Managing the Mushy Middle

  1. Ha! I saw those fireworks and thought maybe you had been “Freshly Pressed” again. Maybe next time, Berg. 😉

    “Unpublished authors”? I could’ve sworn you published some book about a dog and an apocalypse . .

  2. Ugh. That middle part is so draining. It does feel like work. I’m about to add some fireworks and flesh eating octopus in the middle or something. But to just keep writing-that’s good. I will. Just so I can get to the end.

  3. I’m gonna have to get myself some of that So What? Cream! Haha

    The middle is usually the most difficult for me, but in my current work, it’s the beginning that’s getting me. Then again, a few friends and I have been discussing how it’s okay to write a bad first draft. So, I’m trying to keep that in mind while I write and force myself to really get started with this novel. There’s always revision to fix the problems of the story anyway.

    And you’re right. It’s not always fireworks and unicorns. It’s tough at times to keep going, and there are times when you just want to quit writing forever because you feel you aren’t good enough. At least in my case. 😉

  4. Ah, the sagging middle. I always think of like one of those quicksand pits from old movie serials. And yes, the only way through is….through. Can’t be said enough.

    Now where’s my pith helmet…

  5. thanks dude. That’s actually just what I needed today.

  6. I needed to hear that, as well. So thank you! Can’t hurt to be reminded once in a while. I find myself struggling some days, but if I ever want any hope of seeing my name on a bookshelf, I must push through. Onward!

  7. Very true. Oh-so-sadly true.

    HOWEVER – the middle CAN be sexy, with the right mindset. If you think of a story as a human body… well, tummies are sexy, aren’t they? Also, when reading a book, the middle is the part where you can’t put the book down because you’re so eager to move from the beginning of the story towards its ending. So What Cream as well as some rosy glasses can definitely make the middle sexy :).

    I also really do think that remembering that writing is work is one of the most important lessons I ever learned. Learning to sit on my butt every single day and write is one of the best things I’ve ever done, because it’s taught me that while writing is very often work, it’s work that I enjoy and want to keep doing, even when it’s difficult.

    • I’m talking mainly from the writer’s perspective here. If your READER is bored with the middle then yeah, you’ve got some serious problems.

      • Hmph. True.

        But sometimes I’ve found that approaching my writing as a reader is actually helpful. If I write as if I’m reading, just trying to get to the next page and figure out what happens, then the middle does become sexy. At least in my experience so far.

  8. The more terrible stuff you write, the closer you get to the good stuff =)

    • Yep. That’s why I said the problem isn’t that you might be a terrible writer. Because EVERYONE starts out terrible. The only way to get better is to keep pushing and keep learning.

  9. Pingback: The Stages of Writing « Escaping the Inkwell

  10. Thanks for the post! I have a novel I’ve given up on for just that reason (though it never had a name before), and now I know I normal! It feels good to be normal for a change…

  11. How well do I know the evil of Midpoint Malaise. It’s worse than food poisoning. The only thing to do is hang on to the barf bowl and keep going.

  12. theubiquitousuterus

    Are you stalking me or something? How did you know that I am currently suffering from Midpoint Malaise, and did not have a catchy name to call it? How did you know that this was what I needed to kick my butt back into gear?

  13. If only we could find a way to make middle interesting. If only we could use a knife and carve that six-pack. 😉

  14. Great Blog. Love this post, because this always happens to me about halfway into a novel or comic. I hate the project and wish I could start something new and exciting (except I am afraid someday I will have to get a real job if I stop working so I don’t stop.) Working through the malaise actually does work!

  15. Love your blog. I started visiting after your last freshly pressed post. I wish I could say I identify with midpoint malaise. I suffer from befuddled beginnings. Midpoint malaise is my new goal!

  16. Pingback: Ellie Ann Battles the Mushy Middle « The Gig

  17. As a homework assignment from Piper Bayard I just read Map of Bones by James Rollins. He never quite lets you settle into the “middle”. He keeps the pace up and has enough plot turns to keep a reader out of any “middle”.

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