On Navigating the Murky Middle

By Joanne Guidoccio

I love beginnings—in life and on the page. Anything and everything is possible whenever a blank slate appears before me. That momentum can last for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even longer.

At least, that’s what I like to think whenever I begin a new writing project.

A linear pantser, I write brief character sketches, plot the first three chapters and the last, and then let the words flow. At some point, usually around Page 80, I encounter the murky middle, that nebulous place where I find it difficult to continue or sustain the tension of the novel. In short, I’m lost with no clear trail or direction in sight.

In the early days of my writing career, I struggled to regain my motivation, wondering if I should abandon the novel. Thankfully, I have discovered three strategies that have lifted me out of the abyss.

Professional Development

During my teaching years, I would sign up for summer in-service at different universities throughout the province of Ontario. These courses would last anywhere from three days to four weeks. Afterward, I would feel refreshed and ready to tackle a new semester in the fall.

While experiencing my second prolonged drought, I searched for the right course/workshop that could propel me over the writing hump. Online courses offered through Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Savvy Authors, Women on Writing (WOW), and Ed2Go have worked best for me. Lasting anywhere from one to four weeks, these courses succeed in inspiring and motivating me to return to the page. The key is to complete all the recommended exercises and actively participate in discussions.


In Think, legal analyst and author Lisa Bloom urges us to select books that challenge our points of view. Her argument: Our brains need a varied diet of books to stay sharp.

An avid reader of mysteries and women’s fiction, I decided to explore historical fiction written by a male author. During a cold, blustery winter, I spent the entire month of February reading the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett.

The three tomes—Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, Edge of Eternity—follow dramatic events in the lives of five interrelated families (American, Russian, German, English, and Welsh) and sprawl over nearly 3,000 pages. After that month-long reading marathon, I was ready to return to the calmer, less complicated world of my WIP.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

This is the Red Bull solution that has helped me avoid three murky middles. In 2016, 2017, and 2018,  I joined millions of authors worldwide and made the commitment to write 50K words during November.

Inspired and motivated by the online community and local meet-ups, I wrote at least 1,667 words each day and completed very rough first drafts of A Different Kind of Reunion, No More Secrets, and When It Comes Out of Nowhere. Whenever I encountered a roadblock, I typed INSERT CHAPTER and continued writing.

Any other tips to share?

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathryn Jane says:

    Good strategies, Joanne, thanks for sharing! 🙂 I’m thinking about doing NaNo for the first time this year to see if I can get back on track.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I highly recommend participating in NaNo. It’ll get you back on track and give you a buzz, as well. Thanks for dropping by, Kathryn 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marsha R. West says:

    Hey, Joanne. These are good suggestions. I’ve never done NaNo, but I know doing the KOD BIAW writing time in September helped me get started on the next book. I was able to do a week where I wrote every day for 2 hours. Just have too much other stuff going on in my life to do try something more extensive now. But maybe next year. Life should be less complex. I try to only read in my genre because writing styles are so different. I’ve worked hard to hone some skills, but could easily be thrown off course. What works in one genre doesn’t necessarily transfer to others. I’ve shared. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Marsha, I like to cross read whenever I hit a plateau or hear about a “must-read” book. For example, I don’t usually read dystopian literature but made an exception for Margaret Atwood’s latest, The Testaments. Highly recommended! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Jacquie Biggar-USA Today Best-selling author and commented:

    Sisterhood of Suspense​ #author Joanne Guidoccio​ shares tips for getting over that sagging middle ground on our WIP. Stop by and share your ideas; we’d love to hear from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reblogging 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Joanne, great post! I’ve found what works for me is to start a new story when I hit a roadblock on the one I’m working on- usually in a different genre.
    After a chapter or three there, I can normally go back and continue with my original book with the side benefit of having the next one under way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jacquie, Interesting strategy! I’d be afraid of getting sidetracked and not returning to the original story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for the insights, Joanne. I did Nanowrimo in 2017. Somehow November is not a good month for me as I prepare for family gathering. I bought the book with instruction to write on other month.


    1. Hi Miriam, So close to the holidays…it can be a challenge to write each day. Best of luck with your writing. 🙂


      1. Thank you, it is a challenge, Joanne. 😊


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