I’ve written before about the muddy middle. It’s the part of your book, for me usually about two-thirds through, where you suddenly lose all faith in your ability to string words together.
Your story feels boring and derivative, and you wonder why you ever thought you could do this whole writing thing in the first place.
It doesn’t help that all around you, other writers are holding up their new book babies like proud parents and exclaiming how wonderful it is to finally be able to share them with the world. At the same time, you feel like you will never finish/publish another book again.
But there’s a Muddy Middle that’s the great grandmother of all muddy middles – when you’re partway through the final book of a trilogy.
You see, in the last book, you have all these threads you need to wrap up from the previous ones, and since you’re basically two-thirds of the way through, you’re not only questioning the stuff earlier in this book, but also in both of the previous books.
If both previous books are already published, this is somewhat easier, as they fall into the I can’t do jackshit about it now category. If you can’t change it, you might as well move on.
But if you haven’t published any of them yet, you’re in real danger, because you can still go back and change something, or everything.
It doesn’t mean you should, but nothing’s stopping you – after all, those earlier books aren’t yet set in stone.
Welcome to the Muddy Middle Squared.
So what can you do in this unenviable circumstance?
First off, don’t panic. Close your eyes and recite this mantre:
I’m a dead man. I’m a dead man. I’m a dead man.
Remind yourself that you’re a writer for a reason – you have stories inside that you need to tell. Every writer gets hung up at some point – it’s a part of the process. The muddy middle is just a reminder that you’re at a crossroads, with a hundred different paths that can lead you home. And you get to choose the one you like best.
Sometimes it helps me to go back and reread the story I’ve written so far, to refresh my memory and suss out where it might be going wrong, or where I might take it next.
Sometimes I need a little quiet thinky time – riding my bike or driving our car – to give my writer brain the space it needs to work out the kinks in the story.
And sometimes I just have to put my head down and push through it. There’s a good chance that it won’t suck nearly as bad when I read it later as I think it does now.
The key thing here it to find your way to the end. Once you have that, you can fix all the rest.
So many writers flounder in the muddy middle and never finish their stories, and never share them with others.
I’ll tell you a little secret that might help. The mud only goes so far – there’s solid ground a ways ahead. So dig deep and keep moving and writing.
You’ll get there soon enough.
To my writing friends, what challenges do you find when writing the last book in a series/trilogy? How do you overcome them?