144 – Mastering The Middle

Last week in the podcast, I shared five tips for a successful NaNoWriMo. Lots of people have told me it helped get them through the first week so: yay!


In this week’s episode I talk about the difficulties of reaching the middle of creativity challenge at the exact same moment you reach the midpoint of the novel.

(Short story writers, stay with me because a lot of what I’m going to talk about applies to you too!)

You are not imagining things: this is hard. The middle of a novel is the notoriously hard, and the middle of the challenge is hard for different reasons.

The Midpoint of the Challenge

The midpoint of the challenge is tough because you’re tired. The novelty has worn off. You’ve started to question why are you ever decided to put in all this work. And you may feel that your story isn’t worth the effort.

Allow me to help.

Close your eyes. Picture how you felt when you first thought about jumping into this challenge. Really do it. Chances are, you were thinking about the person you would be at the end of the challenge, manuscript in hand, celebrating your win. Take a few moments now to imagine yourself in that place again.

Do it in the present tense. (“I am finished! I can’t believe I did that!”)

I know you can do this because you spend all day picturing things that aren’t real and making them real for readers!

Right or simply imagine what’s happening as you cross the 50,000 word or 31 story finish line. Use all your senses. Keep doing this until you are vibrating. Keep imagining until you can barely stay in your chair.

It’s so easy to lose sight of our WHY in the middle of the WHAT. Get in touch with your WHY. Get emotional about your WHY. Don’t let anything keep you from the goal you set yourself.

But What If My Story’s No Good?

I know this will not come as news to you but I want you to really listen this time: professional writers do not write perfect first draft.

They really don’t. They write drafts that are meandering, boring in places, the repeat themselves, they skipped important details, they are bad.

But they keep going because they have to get to the end of the story and deliver it to the editor because they signed a contract saying they would. So they write the first draft and then they fix it.

These kinds of challenges are built to replicate that, to allow you to practice for the day when you have an editor who is asking for your third or fourth book. You will be able to press on to the end–through the muddy middle–because you have done it before. You won’t know exactly how to write this book, but you will know that you can finish.

It would actually be any easier if and when you have a contract. Don’t miss this chance to practice in private!

Why Story Middles Suck

Writing the middle of the story is hard.

(I’m full of good news today!)

They are hard because

  • In the beginning everything is possibility, now you have to start making decisions
  • You have to start making decisions when you are already tired and feeling insecure
  • You have to close off possibilities for your characters and, depending on your personality type, that might not feel like fun. So try to think of it as narrowing down the options, pushing your characters through a final until they are on the single path available to them to the end. As you minimize the choices they can make, your life will get easier.
  • You may not be clear on your characters inner journey and so your plot feels like it is floundering. Plot grows out of character needs. Dust off your copy of Lisa crowns story genius, and figure out what your characters childhood damage is.

Making It Suck Less

Here are some strategies to get you through the next week and the middle of your novel.

  • Use James Scott Bell’s Mirror Moment as the midpoint of you story. At the midpoint of your story something vital changes. Until this point your character has been trying to solve their problems– and failing.
    At the midpoint there may be a literal moment where your character looks in the mirror or sees herself reflected in a shop window. They ask “what have I become?”
    or perhaps they see themselves reflected in the villain: they could easily become that person if hey take one more step on down this path. Something has to change!
    Rate this scene today. Give your character a chance to reflect on what they need to do to fix all the problems you have thrown at them. Then in the next two weeks Use those insights to shape the decisions your character makes as they drive towards the climax.
  • Figure out your character’s childhood trauma using this proposal about Developmental trauma disorder, or these resources on adverse childhood events: the quiz, the consequences. Why is your character acting the way they are? What needs to be healed? How does that shape the action in your plot?
  • To create a more rounded character, we must create characters who react in a consistent way. Some of the most cutting edge research being done on this topic is in the idea of Primal World Beliefs.
    The basic idea: our beliefs about the place we are in affect our actions and reactions. If you believe the world is safe, enticing and alive, your response to any situation will be different to that of someone who holds the opposing beliefs. These beliefs can be broadly categorized. Some outlooks are more predictive of behavior than others.
    It’s fascinating stuff and I hope to talk more about this in future, but you can get started reading about it here.


  1. Visualize yourself at the end of the challenge, a winner. How do you feel?
  2. Write your character’s mirror moment today.

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