Use These Novel-Writing Tips to Get Unstuck | NY Book Editors
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Stuck in the Middle of a Novel? Use These Writing Tips to Get Unstuck


There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of a story.

What you’re experiencing is not exactly writer’s block. It’s more akin to being lost in a maze. You have options but you’re not sure which one makes sense for your story. If you choose wrong, you risk running into the maze’s roving minotaur and then it’s game over.

Here’s how to carefully navigate yourself out of this maze.

Be Reckless With Your Writing

Remember how I just said to be careful? Just kidding. Be reckless (with your writing, that is).

Often times, we’re stuck because we’re afraid of where the story is actually taking us. Perhaps you have one story in your mind but your heart wants to go in another direction. That direction may not have the happy ending that you were hoping for. Or it may. But you’ll never know until you give yourself permission to write where your heart takes you.

You have nothing to lose if you just start writing from your gut. It’s only the first draft. You can always revise.

Start Journaling

Novel-writing tips

You may be stuck because of something going on in your personal life. This is why journaling is a must for every author.

Journaling allows you to achieve mental clarity by removing all of those nagging concerns that clutter your brain.

Not only can you journal your day-to-day life, but you can also list future goals, celebrate personal growth, and discover the value in your personal and professional relationships.

Journaling allows for introspection and self-examination. The resulting vulnerability and self-awareness are must-haves for riveting storytelling.

But this is my favorite reason to journal: The process of documenting your thoughts will improve your writing. Every time you put pen to paper, you hone your skills and become a better writer. Journaling is never a useless exercise. So, if you're stuck in your novel, pick up the journal and get real with your thoughts and goals.

Figure Out Why Your Story Isn't Working

Sometimes, you’re stuck because deep down inside you know that something’s just not working.

You’ll never know unless you ask. If you’re having difficulty writing the next sentence, don’t force yourself. Instead, take another look at what you’ve already written. When did the writing become difficult? That’s your starting point. Examine what you’ve written from that point to determine if you need to scrap it and re-write.

Now, if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you probably know that I’m not a fan of editing yourself when you’re writing the first draft. This is the one exception. If you’re stuck, then evaluating your work and rewriting may be necessary to move forward.

Focus on the Stories of Your Supporting Characters

You’re focused only on your protagonist. It makes sense— he or she is the star of your story. However, every star needs a supporting cast of characters, and sometimes they don’t get the love that they need.

When you’re stuck, take this opportunity to focus on your other characters. While your novel may not follow their lives as closely, the supporting characters are still essential to a riveting and realistic story.

In fact, your minor characters may be the reason why you’re stuck in the first place. They may need additional development or a stronger back story. Once you discover more about your supporting characters, you’ll be able to write a more compelling story.

Here are 5 tips to creating a killer back story.

Check Your Outline

If you’re stuck, I’m willing to bet that you haven’t outlined your story. No shame. This is a safe place.

Outlining is one of those things that either you love to do or you hate with the heat of a thousand suns. But outlining has its good points, especially if you’re stuck in the middle of a story with no way out.

Access your left brain to find the logic in your story. Draw a path from the start of your story to the end. While you may not follow this path in your actual storytelling, it’s good to see where the story can go.

Remember that it’s never too late to outline. You can start from where you are and plot a course.

Write the End

How does your story end? If you have the end in mind, you’ll be able to write yourself out of a sticky middle.

In fact, instead of trying to write your way to the end, just skip ahead and write the ending now.

Instead of trying to write your way to the end, just skip ahead and write the ending now. Here's why:

The process of writing a story doesn’t need to be linear if you know where you’re headed.

Plus, writing the end ahead of time will allow you to take your time. Many endings read like an after-thought because the novelist is burned out and motivated to finish the novel in a hurry. If you write the ending while you’re still fresh and passionate, you’ll come up with more gripping content.

Condense Your Story

Not every story is meant to be a novel. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tell the story. It simply means that you should re-think the length. Some stories work better as short stories or novellas. By limiting your words, you can trim the fat, tighten the pace, and make the story more engaging.

If you feel like you’ve come to the middle of a novel and you don’t have another 100 pages in you, ask yourself if you can end it in half that amount. Or perhaps you can grab your proverbial editing knife and whittle the entire story down into 10 pages of riveting prose.

Shortening your story allows you to get your message out there without abandoning your characters. It also means that you’re not adding needless content for the sake of word count. Besides, if you come up with enough short stories, you can combine them together and turn them into an anthology.

Here’s how writing short stories can help you become a better novelist.

Add More Conflict

Novel-writing tips

When neither you nor your protagonist knows what to do next, make it unexpectedly worse.

Perhaps your character is having the worse day of his life. Welp, it’s time to increase the misery. Heap on more trouble to your protagonist to see how they respond to the pressure.

If you allow your characters to dictate the story (as opposed to you determining their actions and forcing them to carry out your wishes), your characters will likely surprise you. Perhaps they’re braver than you believe. Perhaps they’ll make a move that at first seems out of character but at the end gives them greater dimension. No doubt that the added conflict will move you out of your stuck position.

Next Steps

Here are a few additional resources to help you get unstuck:

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