On Navigating the Murky Middle

By Joanne Guidoccio

I love beginnings—in life and on the page. Anything and everything is possible whenever a blank slate appears before me. That momentum can last for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even longer.

At least, that’s what I like to think whenever I begin a new writing project.

A linear pantser, I write brief character sketches, plot the first three chapters and the last, and then let the words flow. At some point, usually around Page 80, I encounter the murky middle, that nebulous place where I find it difficult to continue or sustain the tension of the novel. In short, I’m lost with no clear trail or direction in sight.

In the early days of my writing career, I struggled to regain my motivation, wondering if I should abandon the novel. Thankfully, I have discovered three strategies that have lifted me out of the abyss.

Professional Development

During my teaching years, I would sign up for summer in-service at different universities throughout the province of Ontario. These courses would last anywhere from three days to four weeks. Afterward, I would feel refreshed and ready to tackle a new semester in the fall.

While experiencing my second prolonged drought, I searched for the right course/workshop that could propel me over the writing hump. Online courses offered through Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Savvy Authors, Women on Writing (WOW), and Ed2Go have worked best for me. Lasting anywhere from one to four weeks, these courses succeed in inspiring and motivating me to return to the page. The key is to complete all the recommended exercises and actively participate in discussions.

Cross-Reading

In Think, legal analyst and author Lisa Bloom urges us to select books that challenge our points of view. Her argument: Our brains need a varied diet of books to stay sharp.

An avid reader of mysteries and women’s fiction, I decided to explore historical fiction written by a male author. During a cold, blustery winter, I spent the entire month of February reading the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett.

The three tomes—Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, Edge of Eternity—follow dramatic events in the lives of five interrelated families (American, Russian, German, English, and Welsh) and sprawl over nearly 3,000 pages. After that month-long reading marathon, I was ready to return to the calmer, less complicated world of my WIP.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

This is the Red Bull solution that has helped me avoid three murky middles. In 2016, 2017, and 2018,  I joined millions of authors worldwide and made the commitment to write 50K words during November.

Inspired and motivated by the online community and local meet-ups, I wrote at least 1,667 words each day and completed very rough first drafts of A Different Kind of Reunion, No More Secrets, and When It Comes Out of Nowhere. Whenever I encountered a roadblock, I typed INSERT CHAPTER and continued writing.

Any other tips to share?

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