The dreaded middle. We’ve all encountered it, all suffered through painful prose so we can just get to the end. There are those rare few times when we’re able to get through an entire story without much stumbling, but inevitably, just about every stumble comes from the middle.
But why is it so hard? And how can we get past it?
4 Strategies for Mastering the Middle
Why is the middle the most loathed and difficult part of a story to write?
It’s probably because starting to write a story is easy and exciting. You have energy to spare and every idea is golden. And finishing something once you’ve gotten past the middle is one of the most rewarding parts of writing.
But when you reach the middle mark, you can start to run out of steam. It seems like you’ve used up every good idea you had and now all you’re left with is a half-finished project and nothing else to write.
It’s easy to give up when it gets like this. I still have dozens of stories I haven’t touched in years saved to my computer. They were usually abandoned somewhere around 20,000 words. Why? Because planning it, starting it, it was all exhilarating. But then I got to the middle and gave up.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still times even today I’m tempted to abandon a project. But that happens a little less often now, and it’s a little bit easier to push through the hardest parts. There are four tricks I use when I write a story that help me keep up morale.
1. Ask yourself what you want your end to be
Think about a time you’ve gotten lost. How did you find your way back on the right track? Usually you need to know two things: 1. Where are you now? and 2. Where do you need to be?
You will always stay lost until you’ve figured those two things out. Once you can mark those points, it’s a little easier to trace a path that will get you to your desired destination.
It’s similar when you write a story.
How do you envision the end of your story playing out? From there, you can connect the dots. It’s not as hard as it seems with a little direction.
2. Throw in a major plot twist
This is one of the simplest (but sometimes most dangerous) ways to go. It’s simple because it’s easy. There are countless possibilities when it comes to plot twists. A long-lost relative returns, or your protagonist has a surprise pregnancy, or someone close to your characters dies. Et cetera, et cetera.
But it’s dangerous because the plot twist may not be necessary to your plot at all.
If you go with this route, be aware that you may need to do some heavy editing later. But if it helps you get through a tough spot, that’s all that matters for now. See your project through to the end, and then figure out what to do next to polish it up.
3. Have someone hold you accountable
You’d think the easiest way to finish a project is to do it because you want to, but that’s not always true. When it comes to quality, absolutely, writing for yourself is the best possible thing you can do.
But when it comes to finishing the job, writing with a deadline can be really useful. It’s how I’m able to come up with article ideas every month, even when it’s hard. I’m able to finish because I have to.
If I know one of my critique partners is excitedly waiting to read my book and give me feedback, I’ll write and edit so quickly, I didn’t know it was even possible to get so much done in a day. Sometimes I’ll set an actual date and tell my friend, “I’m going to finish this by the thirtieth. Text me and make sure I haven’t slacked off.”
There are lots of different ways to go about it, but having somebody else tell you that you have to finish is a good way to push past the middle.
4. Remember why you started
That spark that made you want to start this project in the first place is a powerful thing. What made you so excited? What about this specifically had you bursting with anticipation to see what you’d write next? Go back to that feeling and try to get it to come through in the middle of your story.
It’s always possible to get your writing to shine again. Sometimes you just need to work at it a little.
You’ll Soon Reach the End
No, middles aren’t easy. But keep writing, and soon you’ll find you’re nearing the end. And that feeling of finishing, of knowing you’ve completed your first draft, will make all the struggle in the middle worthwhile.
What makes that dreaded middle hard for you, and how do you overcome it? Let us know in the comments.
Go back to one of your abandoned projects, or even an old practice you wrote for another article on The Write Practice, and attempt to continue and, hopefully, finish it using one of the tricks above. Was it difficult? Did it work? How can you use these approaches to better your writing in the future?