Monday, August 8, 2011

Blissful Beginnings and Maddening Middles (Holly Schindler)

For an idea junkie (like myself) who owns stacks upon stacks of spiral-bound notebooks filled with scenarios for new books, nothing is as exciting—or even really as satisfying—as starting a new novel. I’m not sure even endings are quite as satisfying as sinking my teeth into a brand-new idea, getting my first few thoughts down on paper.

About fifty pages in, though, when the book is set up—the main characters have all been introduced, major plotlines established—that sluggish middle comes along. This is the point at which an idea junkie can start thinking of all sorts of new scenarios—can imagine the thrill of starting a new book all over again. Actually, this was my biggest downfall when I was a newbie full-time author back in ’01…I’d start one book, only to get to that awful, saggy middle, then fall in love with a new idea, and head off on a separate tangent.

But I’ve stumbled onto a new technique that helps with middles: treat them like beginnings.

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the reasons middles can be so maddening, so—well, intimidating—is that I always absolutely fall in love with my beginnings. I slave over my beginnings, until each new book promises to be the best thing I’ve ever written. And now, here comes the middle, threatening to make me lose my steam, or let this unique new voice peter out. The middle threatens to undo those incredible opening chapters. It’s only natural to want to protect a fantastic beginning…As counter-intuitive as it sounds, when I was starting out, I think I tried to protect my beginnings by avoiding the middle entirely (in other words, start a new project).

These days, I never allow myself to think I’ve ever hit the middle. Each new chapter is treated as a free-write, as though I’m beginning my book—day one, page one. As I draft a new scene (which I’ve planned and plotted ahead of time), I also let myself brainstorm, inventing backstory, new anecdotes, histories. I write long descriptions, notes to myself, sometimes even let my characters talk to each other on a subject that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. But I never censor myself, in the way I didn’t censor myself when I was drafting the beginning. And it all counts toward my daily word count goals—even those notes to self.

This exploratory writing really does keep a book feeling fresh—I never assume I already know all I need to know about my characters or plot. I discover something new every day.

As I draft my latest book, I’m letting my characters come increasingly clearer as the pages stack up—keeping that day one feeling alive, even though I’m knee-deep in that dreaded middle…

PS: I just wanted to let everyone know I've taken over administrative duties from the fabulous Jennifer Echols...and I'm looking to you, our incredible followers, for prompts for our September posts! Feel free to post your ideas in the comments below (the kookier, the better)!


  1. I will be thinking of posts in September, just wanted to say I love this post and will be keeping it in mind as I near the middle of my own latest WIP. :-)


  2. Am I a freak for actually enjoying writing the middle part?

    My problem is remembering to STOP writing the middle.

  3. OK, your idea to treat every chapter as a "free write" that's simply another beginning of the book? Freaking brilliant!!! I, too, suffer from middle-story-slump. I am going to use your idea starting NOW!

  4. This is SO helpful because this is exactly my problem!!!

  5. You're a SUPER freak, Simon! :) I so wish I loved that middle, too...Sigh. Jessi, Jenny, and Rachel, I'm SO glad you like this idea! It's REALLY helping my current WIP...

  6. I'm still new to this blog so I'm not sure if there have been any posts about endings yet, but I'd be interested in reading advice about that. Writing endings are difficult for me. I can think of more than one published book that I've read by other authors where I liked the story until I got to the ending, which ruined the rest of the story for me. So I am always worried that my stories will end up like that.

  7. I have same problem. I love beginning. Middles feel like I'm dodging bullets trying to make everything fit. I will sit my prune editor relax and try treating my next draft like a free writing session.

  8. Excellent suggestions, Holly! And thanks for being our new blog mistress!

  9. Love the idea of treating the middle like the beginning, without all the pressure of pushing only forward. Thanks!

  10. Love your idea for middles!!!! I am actually struggling with my beginning right now, but am putting this in my back pocket to use when I get to the middle.