Writing a book is hard. Whether you’re a plotter, pantser, or something in between, there might be a time when you get stuck.
This most often happens somewhere halfway, which is why writers affectionately call the midpoint of writing a book the “murky middle”. This makes sense. You have an idea that you’re excited about and it invigorates you to start writing. Then you get motivated at the end when that finish line is in sight. The middle is when story clarity and motivation can be at an all-time low.
Since we’re a little over halfway into NaNoWriMo. It’s completely okay to feel a little stuck. Please note that everyone has different writing styles, and these suggestions may work for you, but not for all. Heck, my writing style feels like it changes based on the project I’m working on.
Identify why you’re feeling stuck
If you’re feeling stuck, the first step is to identify why. It might be as simple as one plot element that gives you grief. Or you could be unsatisfied with the groundwork or direction of the story. Or it could have nothing to do with the story itself and you’re just feeling burnt out.
The last time I got stuck, it was because of a mixture of not having a concrete idea of what was going to happen in my plot and––since this was a sequel––I had lapses in what happened before. My solution required brainstorming sessions and rereading my previous book.
Have a brainstorm session
You might be stuck because you have written yourself into a hole or need clarity on where the story is going. This is a great opportunity to break out the post-its, notebooks, or whatever you need to jot down ideas. Write everything down! This is not a time for an inner critic. You never know what you will capture once your brain gets in motion.
If you’re having trouble getting the brainstorm going, start by writing things down about the book that you already know. It might inspire you to create alternative events or shake loose a couple of new ideas. Or you could take a walk or some other light activity that puts your brain in a more relaxed mode that often spawns inspiration.
Read books on writing craft
Reading writing craft books has not only improved my knowledge and prowess of writing but has also helped me plot several stories. I plotted a book while reading Save the Cat Writes a Novel and Romancing the Beat.
These books are written to help you develop your story and often come packed with exercises or concepts that you can use with your current project. This can help get the wheels spinning and precipitate a few ideas.
If you don’t have the time to commit to reading a craft book or don’t want to purchase one, this also works with AuthorTube videos. Watch a few the focus on areas you might be struggling with, such as character arcs and plot structuring. Or watch videos that might help cultivate some new ideas, like trope videos (Jenna Moreci has amazing ones).
Read books that inspired your WIP
Some writers don’t like reading books too similar to their novel when they’re writing for fear it will be too similar. If you share this fear, I make this recommendation with caution.
After I had read Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue, I was so inspired by the voice of the main character that I ended up infusing my character’s voice with similar levels of humor and sass. My book was a very different genre, tone, and premise, but I’d sometimes read passages from McQuiston’s book and it would give me more ideas.
This source of inspiration might not be a specific book but could be a genre or an author. Reading or re-reading something that had once inspired you may lead you to have a few brain spurts to help you move past your sticky point.
Write from a different POV
This is something I recommend doing for character development or an exercise during the pre-writing phase.
You can learn a lot about your story and its characters by writing from alternative points of view. If your book is already told from multiple points of view, you can write scenes from the viewpoint of a couple of different characters and then select which you feel portrays it the best.
If your book is only told from one POV, writing as someone else might help give you a greater understanding of how to push your story further. If anything, it will change up your writing process and help you move along when you shift back into your POV character.
Write something else
If you’re stuck in the middle of the book, write the ending. If you’re stuck on a specific scene, write a different scene. Once you have had some time away, you can come back to the point where you had gotten stuck and tackle it with a fresh perspective.
You don’t even have to write something in the project you are working on, though that will be most helpful for garnering more ideas and is the most productive to your goals. However, you might be stuck just because you need a break from your story. Write a quick piece of flash fiction. Write a scene of another project that has you excited.
Sometimes you get stuck because you’re doubting your abilities as a writer. If you write something else and are happy with it, then that could give you a confidence boost to move past the sticking point in your story.
Take a break
Burnout is a real and legitimate reason for getting stuck. It’s completely okay to take a break and dive back in. Only you can determine how long that break needs to be.
There is a certain pride in “winning” NaNoWriMo, but no one will publicly shame you or beat you with a baseball bat in a dark alley for not meeting every milestone. Have check-ins with yourself and with your story and take breaks accordingly. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and sometimes requires rest and recovery.
Silence your inner-critic
Your brain can be your worst enemy. If you are stuck, it’s probably because you are overthinking or working too hard to make your first draft perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. Great novels often come out of great editing, but you have to have something written before you can edit it.
Shut down your inner editor while drafting. Write badly. Make silly mistakes and typos. Getting the words on the page and moving forward is what is going to be the most important.
Lastly, don’t forget to treat yourself for coming as far as you have. You’re doing great and you won’t be stuck forever. Every time you sit down and write, that’s progress. All progress should be celebrated and I believe in you!
If you found this post useful, let me know in the comments below. Message me with any content you would like to see in the future! Don’t forget to subscribe to the Newbie to Novelist Newsletter.