Every time I embark on writing a new novel, it’s like total amnesia sets in about the last time I wrote a novel. The beginning is incredibly fun. The characters are fresh and new and interesting. They’re the irresistibly charismatic people I’ve just met at a party who I want to talk to all night. The story itself is intriguing. I can’t wait to find out what’s really going on and how it all turns out. Eagerly, I set to work and I just know it, this is going to be the best book I’ve ever written.
And then…I hit the middle.
It’s always at the same point, too, at least for me. Just a little past the halfway mark. This is the point when the story has committed itself to a certain trajectory, when the characters have made decisions they can’t walk away from. And this is also when I start to feel distinctly trapped by the book. I can’t back out now, I’m in too deep. Besides, I do love my characters and I want to stand by them and see the story through. But when I look ahead, everything looks dim and confusing, and somewhat bleak. I’m not sure how any of us are going to get out of this alive.
This sounds melodramatic, but this is my reality as a writer. Writing my way through the middle of a book sucks, and I hate it.
The other piece of this, which I think I share with a lot of other writers, is that I tend to judge myself harshly when I’m feeling this way. I know there are writers out there who would give anything to finish one novel, much less have the luxury of complaining about hitting the middle point of a novel that is one in a list of many. I know there are writers out there who are struggling with other demands placed on them from financial pressures, ill health, or the needs of loved ones that have to take precedence over their own at the moment. This makes me feel even more guilty. Shouldn’t I just shut up and be grateful for what I have and slog my way through this latest novel with a smile on my face?
Well, no. That’s not quite the way it works.
The truth is, that wherever you are as a writer, it’s hard. Each of us is going through our own thing. Right now, my thing is struggling to write my way out of this novel. Sometimes my thing is feeling like crap because I got a bad review. A lot of times my thing is dipping into despair because I’m not sure anyone will even like or appreciate whatever it is I’m writing at the moment. All of these things are valid, and all of them feel unpleasant and difficult to go through. Me clubbing myself over the head with self-judgment and guilt is not helping anything.
So, that’s the first piece, I think. Moving from self-judgment into self-acceptance. If you’re stuck in the middle of writing a tough novel, that’s where you’re at. And it’s okay to feel like it’s hard and annoying.
The second piece that can help us get through the slog of writing the middle of a novel is to realize that a novel unfolds in stages that are very similar to real life. Of course the beginning is fun—it’s the time when all possibilities are still open. As in real life, even if we had a rough childhood or adolescence, we also had the certainty that any path could still be taken. We could decide to be a sea captain, or a stockbroker. We could move to Australia, or Africa. We could do so many things because we still had so much time. It’s the very same way with a novel. As you write the beginning, all paths are still open to your characters. They could do this thing OR this other thing. The possibilities are endless, and the future feels magical.
However, when you reach the middle of a novel, much like reaching the middle of life, the possibilities have narrowed. The fact is, our characters HAVE made choices now and those choices affected everything else. They DID choose to be a sea captain over a stockbroker, or to move to Australia instead of Africa. It’s much harder to work with the characters because the story itself has narrowed and we just plain don’t have as much room to maneuver as before.
This is my little-over-halfway point that I reach in every book that causes me so much difficulty. I’m still committed to the story, yes, but there is a very deep, very real part of me that mourns the loss of possibility. I can see the future of the story now, even if only dimly, and it doesn’t seem very magical anymore.
But the thing is, this is what life is all about. This is actually how the natural cycle of everything is supposed to unfold. Everything has to narrow itself at some point or nothing concrete would ever happen. Every person has to choose, sometime. And even if they choose to do nothing, that’s still a choice in itself.
Every one of us, at one crossroads or another, has to pick a path and walk down it.
So, if you’re currently slogging your way through the middle of a book, let yourself know that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel frustrated and tired and like the magic of your story has maybe, just slightly, worn off. It’s okay to feel like you want to chuck the book into the ocean, or a bonfire. You don’t have to feel guilty for feeling any of those things.
Because the middle is hard for everyone. In novels, and in real life.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, a guide to help any HSP, INFJ, INFP, or introvert writer move past resistance to selling and marketing their work. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.