The Cure for Writer’s Block: Writing From the Middle

If you’ve got a bad case of writer’s block going and can’t figure out how to start your novel, James Scott Bell’s “writing from the middle” technique – which I follow religiously – might help sort things out.

Writers, you’ve probably heard of the terms ‘pantser’ and ‘plotter’. Pantsers write their story from the beginning without a plot outline, just going with the flow, while plotters draft a complete outline and then begin. But what about someone who’s neither? Or both?

Well, that’s me.

When did I come across the concept of “writing from the middle”? About three or four years ago. I was just starting out as a writer then, and was obsessed with reading books about writing: be it Stephen King’s On Writing, Jeff Goins’ You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)… or James Scott Bell’s Write From the Middle. I was only writing my first novel then, and I had started out as a pantser. I knew what would happen in the book, but I only had a rough idea. And yes, I was writing from the first scene to the last, all in order.

The problem with writing from the beginning (at least for me) is that if you get stuck on one scene, you wind up getting stuck on the entire book. That means writer’s block. And it may take days, weeks, or even months for you to get un-stuck.

When I discovered that there is such a thing as writing from the middle, I was – as the kids put it these days – shook. While his technique is primarily structural and more about centering the story around the middle, what I learnt from it is that you don’t have to write the first scene first. You don’t have to write in sequence. You can write from the middle and still churn out a halfway decent (or even good) book.

The thing about me is that I get ideas for scenes in the most random places. The shower, the toilet, seconds before I fall asleep, spacing out when someone’s talking… I’m sure my fellow writers can relate. Now, as a pantser who only wrote from the start, I didn’t write these random scenes at once. Instead, I noted them down and saved them for later.

Here’s the problem I was facing: I wasn’t able to get into the right groove later on and do justice to those scenes. That’s probably why A Soft Spot for Hate, my first YA romance, is shitty. My second novel, Not That Kind of Girl, which I wrote from the middle, has brought beta readers to tears. Because of the emotional connection, not because it sucked. At least, I think so.

What I do now is write from the middle. This means that I have a separate document called “Books Info” in which I have a list of all my novel ideas. I write scenes for each book as and when they come to mind. I’ve already written over 22,000 words in this document, spanning seven books that are still works in progress and not the novel I’m currently writing.

By the time I need to start the next novel, I’ve already got the best scenes fleshed out. That makes the start so much easier for me to write. To be honest, I have become more of a plotter, as I now make a one-page outline listing the many scene ideas I have. However, I don’t go sequentially or chronologically unless it comes to me naturally.

So, authors, instead of getting stuck on word one, page one, or chapter one, try writing chapter fifteen first. Or twenty. Or ninety (depending on how big your book is). Trust me, it’ll fix your writer’s block in a jiffy.

What kind of writer are you? Plotter, pantser, or a “middler” like me? What are your techniques to fight writer’s block? Let me know in the comments below. Until next time – happy writing!

14 thoughts on “The Cure for Writer’s Block: Writing From the Middle”

  1. I love this! And I tend to do this too sometimes– if I have a scene I want to write but it’s taking me ages to get there, I’ll go ahead and write it then stash it away so it’s safe for when I do finally get to that scene in the book.

  2. Normally, I’m a pantser with vague ideas and that almost always ends in a massive block that I can’t get around. I’m always keen to mix things up, though! One of my friends writes like you do: she latches on to a scene that has inspired her and gets it written, knowing she can slot it into the right place later on. I’m currently doing this for one of my stories and I kind of like it, although I’m not sure how it’s all going to fit together later. I figure that’s a problem for future me to sort out!

    I’m doing something a little different with my other main project. While I’m writing it in linear fashion, I just jump to a new scene or episode whenever it feels like I’ve reached a block. It’s great! I feel like I’ve turned a problem into an actual mechanic of the story and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. That’s one of the fabulous things about writing stories: you can make up your own rules if you want to!

    1. Hey Katie,
      Don’t worry, it’ll fit together nicely as long as you have a clear picture of how the transitions should be. In any case, be sure to hire some beta readers after you finish your manuscript to make sure everything is in place.
      PS: “Katie writes stuff – so you can read stuff” is a hilarious tagline!

  3. I write this way and find it very helpful. But the book you are mentioning actually describes a technique that is different than what you are describing. It’s much more structure-oriented if I remember correctly, and asks the author to start in the middle and use that plot point to decide the beginning and end of the book, and have the middle hold up the entire plot. I liked the book a lot as it was a play on plotting and as a former pantser I did a deep dive into plotting after my first novel surpassed the 100k words point with no end in sight.

    1. Yep! I kind of took away the technique I mentioned from that technique, so I thought I would mention the book as well! Good that it’s working well for you, Dawn!

  4. I write out my outline and the key subject or point of each chapter, then put them in some semblance of order and then write as I feel the urge on whichever floats my boat that day. So I might jump around, but have a foundation to go back to and not wonder too far off.

    1. Makes sense! I’ve only recently started writing one-page plot outlines (but likely most aren’t complete, tons of “????” all over the place). While it does help, I always remind myself that there’s always room for additions or changes to the plot. Rigidity and I don’t work well together.

  5. I go with the flow. I love the idea for writing from the middle. I do keep different documents handy. At odd moments, I’ll see the entire next section before I write. When it stops, I wait for the story to “write itself”. It’s a weird process. Truthfully, I run from outlines as if they had teeth ready to bite me. Their only merit to me is when I use it after to check on my story arcs.
    When I read my writing aloud, I can hear if the character’s words are true to them or not.

    1. Hahaha! A one-page outline does the trick for me. Any more than that and I’m dead.
      I read my writing out loud too! Really helps with writing good dialogue.

  6. I’ve dreamed of writing my own book and started. I got as far as chapter two…and just about two years later after writing panster style I have not moved. I just cannot seem to move on.

    For those short novels I have written in this way – they were good – kind of. My best work though came from writing from plots and I am typically linear about them. I will definitely try writing from the middle and see how it works.

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