Fighting the Mid Novel Slump

I never knew there was a such a thing. But a few weeks ago it happened to me. At first I thought it was just a moment of frustration. I hit a wall with my novel and had to take an unexpected detour, a longer way with a treacherous incline.

Suddenly, the idea that I was inches away from coasting downhill toward my novel’s ending disappeared. Poof, gone. I looked around, trying to orient myself, and realized I was halfway up a snowy peak with holes in my boots and dwindling supplies.

I started to wonder… was I wasting my time toiling away at a crap first novel? Should I cut my losses now and start something new, or shake off the doubt and trudge ahead?

Photo Credit: AraiUSA via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: AraiUSA via Compfight cc

(I’m writing this during a snowstorm, which is clearly influencing my choice of imagery, so I apologize in advance for hitting you over the head with my metaphorical shovel; but seriously, it’s a blizzard out there.)

So, I did what any rational person does during times of stress and indecision: I looked for signs.

Someone, other than myself, to tell me WHAT TO DO. Of course, this is ridiculous and a form of procrastination, not to mention self-sabatoge, but I looked, and of course I found plenty online. I was haunted by articles with headlines like, “Why We Write, Why We Stop…” and “In Praise of Quitting”. The first article by Julianna Baggot turned out to be uplifting (and filled with tangible advice, check it out), but the second nearly gutted me.

Photo Credit: coppirider via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: coppirider via Compfight cc

I know sometimes it might be better to quit a project that isn’t going anywhere, but the question that keeps me (and I’m sure, many writers) up at night is this: How do you differentiate between doubt and honest assessment? 

This crisis of faith made me a horribly grumpy person to be around (sorry family), and catching my son’s cold did NOT help matters, but fortunately I happened across another sign soon after:

Janice Graham on the Writer’s Midway Crisis

On the – Wha???

I didn’t know Janice, but I loved her immediately for giving a name to my problem. Midway crisis, yes, that’s exactly what was happening! Like so many problems (if not all), mine turned out to be completely unoriginal.

This made me giddy with relief. Whatever my decision, I wasn’t the only one stuck in this godforsaken place. Others had traveled a similar path and survived. Including Neil Gaiman, who wrote this wonderfully uplifting piece for National Novel Writing Month. Apparently, he feels this same malaise at the midpoint of ALL his novels. (Note to self, move The Ocean at the End of the Lane up to the top of my to-read list.)

In her article, Janice references Steven Pressman’s The War of Art, a book I had heard of but not yet read. He calls this particular ailment, and all its odious relatives, by one name: resistance. YES. A repelling energy that pushes writers, artists, creators, entrepreneurs to quiver with doubt and ultimately retreat. Resistance, or more specifically our surrender to it, is what makes us fail.

Soon after I read Janice’s article, my sense of equilibrium returned. I checked the window of my soul in regards to my novel-in-progress. The snow had lightened and the mist seemed to be thinning. My boots were still soggy and the path jagged and steep, but I knew now what I had to do.

Take a step at a time. In one direction. UP.

Photo Credit: zzzoz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zzzoz via Compfight cc

Now, I have some questions for you. Feel free to answer one, none, or all…

Have you any experience with the mid-novel slump/crisis?

Has their been a time when cutting your losses *was* the right choice for a project? How did you make that decision?

What is your experience with resistance or doubt, and how do deal with it?

I’m currently devouring, and loving, Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art. The first two sections have really resonated with me, but I’m having a little, ahem, resistance, with the last section which is about muses and angels (where he believes inspiration comes from). If you’ve read the book, I’m curious to know what you think.

 

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39 thoughts on “Fighting the Mid Novel Slump

  1. I certainly hit slumps- though I don’t know that they occur at the middle. It’s usually closer to the beginning. I have never given up on a project though. I have re-prioritized, let it sit for a bit while I worked on something else to keep the creative juices flowing. However, taking this approach has lead to about 5 incomplete novels that I keep cycling through a little bit at a time. Recently I have come to prefer the NaNoWriMo approach- just write. Push through it, write crap. It’s okay. You can always get rid of the crap later.

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    • Thanks Amanda, I think slumps can indeed come at any time. Re-prioritizing is a good idea, taking a break and then returning can sometimes breathe some fresh air into a beleaguered project. But having too many projects can also be a problem! Sigh. I agree with pushing forward, and that is exactly what I’m trying to do.

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  2. Oy! It happens all the time. I dropped my NaNo project because it felt like I was just putting words to the page and not writing the story I really wanted it to be. Now, some would say, oh, but you have to just push on. But sometimes you have to totally reassess your story’s goals. I’m definitely having a crisis at the moment. I can’t seem to get into a groove on any of my projects (which might mean I have too many projects). I usually get through this by writing the chapter that’s most prominent in my head. But, lately, it seems like I keep writing myself into trouble. My characters are flat and the dialogue takes over everything (because that’s what I find easiest). I could certainly use a muse, angel, fairy, magic pixie troll… you name it. Maybe a magic 8 ball with plot suggestions? 😉

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    • Hey Scott, thanks for chiming in! I’m sorry you’re having struggles with your projects right now. I wish I could call on a magic pixie troll for you, or maybe you just need one to pop into one of your stories 🙂 In any case, maybe pick the one project that feels closest to being complete, and muscle through. You can add layers to flat seeming characters later. I also read something about doing something totally unexpected to mix things up, or take a short break from everything and then return with a fresh brain. Just throwing stuff out there. Let me if the trolls come to help and then send a few my way.

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  3. I’m currently re-writing my first novel from the beginning and I have considered whether to bin it on a number of occasions. However, I am determined not to, as I see a promising future in this story. I had a mid-way crisis during the novel I wrote for NaNo, as I thought I was running out of story, but I managed to get through it by moving my character to another country and then I was off again with a new story! (I haven’t read this draft all the way through since writing it, so I’ve no idea how it really turned out. In my head was good, but that’s not anything to go by!).

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    • Thanks for your comment Nikki. It always feels better knowing I’m not alone in this writing struggle! I love your idea of changing settings in your novel when you hit a rut. I actually did that too, not country but state, and I think it gave me some more to work with. Good luck rereading the draft!

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  4. Yes this is a familiar feeling and it’s somehow reassuring to find out it has a name! I have had a number of slumps on book one and book two. Each time I manage to recognise the signs and handle it better. I think it’s a healthy thing to happen while you’re writing, if you’re ploughing on oblivious to any signs of doubt then it’s probably not a good thing! But I know writers are easily talked out of plugging on and wonder if we should just scrap our ideas altogether. These days I think an idea through in lots of detail before I commit to writing it, then hopefully I’m dealing with the inevitable slump earlier in the process. When it happens I break from writing for a few days and I usually find a moment of inspiration will hit me when I’m walking the dog or driving somewhere. I wouldn’t want to quit on an idea. Good luck with writing the rest.

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    • Yes, Emily, I agree, it is reassuring to give it a name, and now that I’ve been through it once, I imagine (hope) to recognize it next time around. I feel like there is a lot of mixed messages about sticking it out and cutting your losses, but in the end, it’s such an individual decision and you have to go with your gut. Good luck with your writing as well!

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  5. I can totally identify with this, and experienced something very similar with both of my novels. Just as you think everything’s coming together it disappears in a puff of smoke… I don’t think I would have it in me to quit though – I tend to plan quite heavily so I feel like I have too much invested by the time I’m halfway through writing to just give up! And both times the issues resolved themselves. Not necessarily entirely how I thought they would but that’s ok! Good luck with the rest of your novel 🙂 (And definitely read The Ocean at the End of the Lane – it’s awesome)

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    • Thanks for your comment Sophie. It helps to know I’m not alone! Planning is good, and something I didn’t do nearly enough in the early drafts of this novel, but I think I’ll do more next time. I will always tend to be more of a “pantser” I think, winging it in a way, but I think there is something to be said about thinking through plot and character while knowing you can be flexible if things change in your brain.

      Good to know you enjoyed that book! I can’t wait to read it.

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  6. This is a real thought provoking post Dana! I’m glad you powered passed the pain barrier and have got your mojo back 🙂 If it makes you feel any better I had massive doubts about three quarters of the way through my book too…

    Those books sound great, Ineed to read some stuff like this but my reading rate is pretty s.l.o.w. at the moment…

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    • Thanks so much Renee! In moments of clarity I realize everyone has writing doubts, but in the midst of it you feel so alone. That’s why I love link ups like these 🙂 I understand not having much reading time, I don’t either which is why my to-read list is so very long.

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  7. Oh boy I so relate to this! Yes, I’ve had a Midway Crisis, three times in fact. With my first novel I didn’t know I was doing the right thing, struggled with my identity and my abilities. In the end I pushed through it but I’ve no idea how. Second time round I was attempting a follow up to the first story and it failed miserably. The problem was I was writing in the fantasy genre and wasn’t really ‘feeling’ it. The writing really was terrible. I gave up on the second novel and that’s still half written but hidden in the same place as the first novel. With my current novel I’ve suffered numerous times. I think I’m on my 5th draft but it feels like the first. I’ve started again from the beginning and it seems to be going well so far. But I haven’t reached the mid-way point yet. My writing in 30 min bursts seems to be helping me at the moment and I’m sticking to it in the hope I’ll breeze past that mid-way point without noticing. Good luck with that snowy mountain, we’re all behind you. xx #WhatImWriting

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    • Hi Morgan, thanks for your comment! It’s such a relief that so many can relate to this. I am on what is probably my fifth draft with this novel and just hope I’m finally on the right track (or closer to the right one at any rate). I like the idea of 30 minutes bursts and need to try that, especially since my time is so… spare. I really appreciate your support. Good luck blowing past that mid point!

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  8. I love this post Dana – there’s so much I can identify with and I plan on following those links too… well perhaps not the one that nearly gutted you!
    I think you may have just put a name to what has happened to me with my novel as I was powering away and now it’s been gathering dust for months – I got outfaced and left it and instead turned my attention to other writing projects. Maybe my picture books are just procrastination and resistance to my novel? No, they’re more than that but there is something in the idea I think!
    I can see how cutting losses could work if your current project is really going no where but on the other hand I think there’s always learning to be had from taking something through to completion. I suspect my novel will never see the light of day even when complete but I fully intend to finish it regardless. It’s my first (well, the first I’ve ever got this far into) so it’s a massive learning curve and I feel like I need to complete it to learn all the lessons from it, if that makes sense? I think there’s a lot to be said for seeing something through.And what I learn from this book I will carry forward into future work!
    I’m glad you’re back climbing your novel mountain (and I loved the metaphor)! Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting xxx

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    • Thanks so much Maddy! I am really grateful for so many supportive and understanding comments. I totally agree with your point about needing to finish in order to learn and grow as a writer. That is one of the things that helps push me forward when I’m feeling down, that even if this novel doesn’t “go anywhere” I need to finish it for myself. I started this having ZERO idea how to write a novel (I only wrote short fiction and essays) and this has, at the very least, been a huge learning experience. Here’s to all of us climbing up and flying down these mountains of challenge!

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  9. I can certainly identify with much of what you say in here too. Self doubt is a constant ‘friend’ and it can interfere with all aspects of my writing. When things are low, I look at the positive feedback I’ve had for other projects and that spurs me on.
    I’ve never actually cut my losses on anything yet, but I have relegated projects to the back burner where they still sit. I figure one day inspiration might strike or the nuggets of something might be rewritten at some point. I believe that nothing is ever all ‘bad’ and I hope I’m not proved wrong about this someday!

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    • I think the back burner is a good place for things to rest, to let the mind rest and reboot. My novel was on a back burner of sorts (!) for five years, and thought I wouldn’t recommend that length of time exactly, it did help create an important distance from the work. I could go back with fresh eyes, almost as if the writing was not even my own since I had grown and changed much during my time away.

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  10. I totally get this. Especially the SOMEBODY TELL ME WHAT TO DO! You don’t need a lot, and I think sometimes it’s confidence! As I can be a bit needy I totally send it to friends and basically say ARGHH WHAT NEXT? Luckily they know how to steer me.

    Good luck – you can do this x

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  11. So glad you got through it! Loving the snowy metaphors as well. Makes up for the lack of snow here. Boo.
    I have the late-novel slump, which is slightly diffferent. It’s when you’re nearing the end of the novel but you don’t want it to end so ou can’t bare to write it but you have to write it…
    I’ve been where you are though, quite a few times and it’s perfectly normal. Doesn’t make it any easier to get through though x

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  12. Ha! “I didn’t know Janice, but I loved her immediately for giving a name to my problem.” That really helps, doesn’t it?

    I haven’t hit slumps but my books are all over the place. They’re not novels, they’re scrapbooks with writing in them. So don’t mind me. Keep on keeping on, Dana. If it feels like it’s a book you should be writing, keep writing it. Either way, don’t scrap it. Put it aside if you must. You might need those scraps later.

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    • Thanks Sarah, naming really does help! It was like, oh phew, I’m not insane 🙂

      I love the idea of your novels being like scrapbooks. You keep on too, I’d love to see an excerpt from yours!

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  13. “How do you differentiate between doubt and honest assessment?” Yes and yes. This really articulates the daily struggle of the writer so well. I feel like every time I sit down to write, I think, “What am I thinking? I have nothing to say, nothing to offer?” Or what if I think I’m an OK writer, but I’m really that person whose friends tell me I am, but I’m not. I live in dread of that. I’ve just been telling that voice to shut up. I’ve been replacing it with: just keep writing. I try to focus on the fact that I write first for myself- because if I don’t create, I struggle with depression and anxiety. I’m also taking a sketching class right now and I remember someone commented on a reply you could give to anyone who criticized your work, “My art is better than the art you didn’t make.” I loved this, and I think we could tell that to our own critical voices as well. I remember an English prof. in college saying when we write our thesis, we alternate between thinking it’s genius and it’s horrible. Somewhere in the middle of that is the process…the “keep writing,” part. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

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    • Well, I think you’re an incredible writer, from what I’ve read on your blog, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to think so 🙂 But I think most writers have that awful inner critic perched on our shoulder whispering toxic things into our ears. A friend of mine calls it the “saboteur” and suggests journaling with it/her and asking questions, sort of a way to gain control, to take away its power.

      I think you’re on the right track by replacing it with “Just keep writing.” It’s all we can do some days!

      Have you ever read Steven Pressman’s, The War of Art? He writes about “resistance” being the key factor is what holds writers/creators back from achieving their goals. I’m almost done with it and it’s really quite inspiring in a kick in the pants sort of way.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh my goodness YES! It’s totally normal. The best thing I’ve personally found is to just push on through. BIC Butt in Chair. Usually when I just force myself to write I soon get back into it and when I look back, expecting to cringe, I end up thinking it wasn’t as bad as I feared! 😀

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  15. This is beautiful, Dana. Well I’ve never written a novel, and I’m not sure I ever will but I do submit to anthologies and I would love to write non-fiction, and I can’t imagine it’s that different. I was always told to walk away, and it works for me. I walk away. And then walk back. And then away. And back. And I look for signs too! Usually with music.

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    • Thank you so much Tamara! I don’t imagine it’s different for other types of writing, unfortunately there are always slumps. But thank goodness for signs, the good ones anyway 🙂

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  16. Yes, Dana, to all your thoughts on this subject. I am so glad that you discovered Pressfield’s book. I’ve reread several of his passages when I am in the middle of a writing slump and it pushed me through to obtaining my rhythm again. I know you will prevail. Keep writing, friend. xo

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    • Thanks Rudri, and yes, I’m glad to have found Pressfield’s book too! It’s so inspiring, and such a fast read, which helps when you need to start writing 🙂

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  17. ” How do you differentiate between doubt and honest assessment?”
    I wonder this all the time. All. The. Time. I wish I had a good answer.

    The only thing I can do at this stage is follow my curiosity. It might be related to my novel and it might have nothing to do with it. I just do, see, experience where my curiosity takes me. Here’s hoping the slumps don’t last too long. 🙂

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  18. Dana I don’t know how I missed this post. Yes I have resistants in everything I do. Its getting to know when and where it happens. Not so much with art but definitely with writing. My confidence is growing with every course I take. Some days I read my draft and know it is crap other days I see potential. I will find myself reading posts and flitting about from one thing to another avoiding the edits. You are not alone, it happens to us all and throw a couple of kids into the mix and I find it even harder. On the tough days I just turn up at my table and start, when you start something happens. Once when I was a bit lost in the middle of a draft I went to the ending and wrote that. Best advice keep chipping away at it and when you think its readable share it with a few trusted individuals and chip away at it some more. I dared share one of my drafts with a professional editor friend of my sisters. Oh boy, I learned many things and that is why I took the editing course. My biggest fear is my lack of skills in grammar, punctuation and the general writing rules for a novel. All things I can learn. Good luck and keep at it.

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    • Thanks so much Kath! Yes, just showing up is ALL any of us can do some days… Keeping chipping away indeed 🙂 I also agree taking continuing education – whether through classes or reading books about craft, is hugely important. We can always learn more.

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  19. Pingback: The Art of Finishing: Guest Post – writing at the table

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