Pushing through the murky middle – Kimberly Belle

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By Kimberly Belle

The End. Every time I type those last two beautiful, magical words, I think I might have finally figured this writing thing out. I think I know how to build a plot, how to wrangle my characters into submission, how to structure my scenes to carry power and build tension.

And then it comes time to write the next book, and I realize I know nothing at all.

Part of my problem is that with each subsequent story I tackle, I push myself to try something different. Multiple points of view, for example, or a plot that’s not quite chronological. It always seems like a good idea at first, until I actually sit down with my fingers on the keyboard, and my pretty little book tries to kill me.

For me, that usually happens somewhere around the mid-point, when everything I’ve written seems pointless. My hook is weak. My characters are stupid. My plot is so full of holes, it’s a canyon. We writers don’t call it the murky middle for nothing.

Any writer forty-thousand words into a story will tell you that giving up is the very last thing they want to do. But when the words dry up and the characters stop talking, when writing another word feels like torture, giving up sometimes feels easier than pushing through.
Here are a couple of tricks to help you rediscover that story sparkle.

1. Close the file.

This seems so obvious, but we writers are a stubborn bunch, and often we think the only way through is through. But take it from me: pounding away at something you hate will only make you hate it even more. What you need is distance. Close the file and step away, and often the flaws become clear.

2. Give yourself a break.

Putting down a story doesn’t make you any less of a writer. It makes you a human who is frustrated and irritable and in need of a break. Maybe it’s not the story you were meant to be writing right now, or maybe you just need a little space. Either way, we writers have enough angst. Stop beating yourself up about it.

3. Think about what’s next.

Instead of focusing on the monster in the drawer, look to the future. What do you want to write next? What will get your writer brain excited again? There’s no better feeling in the world than that new, fresh-idea buzz.

4. Don’t force it.

I know, I know. Deadlines! Word counts! Pressure! But your readers will notice if you push through on an idea that you forced, and besides. What good is coming out with a book a year if nobody wants to read it?

5. Read.

This, too, seems like a no-brainer, but writers read with an eye to technique. Your a-ha! moment could be waiting for you in the pages of another author’s book. See what they do right, and maybe you’ll find what you did wrong. At the very least, you’ll have lost yourself in a good story for a couple of hours.

Only you can decide whether to push through or put your story on a shelf, but know that every author struggles with a book at some point. Think of it as a rite of passage. Chalk it up to experience.

Just don’t think you’re the only one.

Kimberly Belle is the author of three novels: The Last Breath, The Ones We Trust, and The Marriage Lie (coming January 2017). She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Agnes Scott College and has worked in marketing and fundraising for various nonprofits, both at home and abroad. She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.


1 Comment

  1. Alex Ratcliff

    December 4, 2016 at 5:30 am

    Thanks Kimberly! Great advice. Great reminders for all of us making our way through the less than beautiful parts of our stories or the achilles heel of our own writing process. Big, tight hugs to you!!

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