10 Remedies for mid-book slog

It's book o'clockWhen the contract arrived for my book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation, I levitated and floated on the ceiling. My proposal had been accepted, my outline was complete, and my files of notes overflowed. I dove into the full book head-on, bounding out of bed early every day, even Sunday. With not a single email detour, I clicked the manuscript onto the screen and started typing. I would easily make the agreed-on publisher’s deadline.

And then it hit. Three months in, I should have been barreling along. But I dragged out of bed, succumbed to at least an hour of home-page clicking, read every word of emails selling everything, and with lukewarm attention, perused writing sites. After way too long, I pecked a phrase, deleted it, pecked another, almost cried. My malady: mid-book slog.

As each day passed and I tried not to notice the date, I was 24 hours closer to noncompletion, which meant begging for an extension. I’d sold myself as not only an expert, but a professional writer. My hands grew cold as I realized my word couldn’t be counted on.

Mortified, I forced myself to take radical steps: set the alarm for an hour earlier, relying on my panic to keep me up;  worked later, sacrificing essential TV shows; limited random browsing to a strict twenty minutes. It all worked and I started producing.

In this grueling process, I learned many things. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope these ten reminders will help you loose yourself from mid-book slog.

1 – Expect boredom. Like new love wearing familiar, boredom can attack at any point. As excited and inspired as you felt jumping in, however sonorously your words poured forth, however much you still believe in the work, now you’ll get impatient and uninterested. Suggestion: Write down your purpose(s) for writing the book. Type or neatly print it on a card, keep it in front of you, and stare at it frequently.

2 – Every fifteen minutes counts. Set the trusty timer and promise yourself a reward at first bong. Flat and stupid as the words seem, just keep going.

3 – You’ll never use all the notes, articles, scraps of ideas, and brilliant phrases you’ve collected. Of every morsel I’d dutifully collected that I thought was so perfect, I used about a quarter. Unable to bear discarding them, I refiled them. You never know.

4 – Time not working is still working. Sometimes between bites of tuna-out-of-the-can lunch I rushed to the keyboard to get down the word that escaped me all morning or a related idea that suddenly popped in.

5 – Make time for breaks. And I don’t mean that gulped lunch. You do need them. If you feel driven to try to rack up the hours, you won’t be consistently productive or sharp. Get up. Get out. Go shopping. Exercise. Go to the movies. Take a boat ride. Talk to people (not writers).

6 – Write about what you’re experiencing. Especially if you can’t face another page of your subject, write about how you feel. At the least, it will get those malevolent thoughts out. At the best, it will lead you back to the book. Such a journal-type piece may seem like it’s taking you away from the production hanging over you. Do it anyway. You’ll feel better, and you’ll have the makings of a blog, or at least a guest blog.

7 – Other than the cathartic writing, ignore everything else when you’re on your writing schedule. So what if the laundry piles higher than Machu Pichu, the garbage reeks and neighbors in the hall look accusingly in your direction, the mail piles up, your hair is greasy? You’ve gotten another page written.

8 – Ask your mind/muse/alter ego/God/Inner Idiot for answers. You’ll get them. “I need an example for ____.” Whoa—a great one arrives in an email. “What else can I say to flesh out this section?” Whoa—a perfect thought surfaces.

9 –  Keep filling your well. Sounds contradictory, I know, to the fifth, sixth, and seventh suggestions here. But as Julia Cameron says (The Artist’s Way), we need to keep filling the well—that is, nurturing our writing gene. If you’re completely stuck, even after taking breaks and catharting, write about something else. What you choose can be connected or unrelated to your present book. I’ve done drafts of spinoff essays, the opening of a sequel, an unrelated quirky short story that blossomed in the parking lot, a poem, and even a list of things I learned from finishing this book . . . .

10 – When you’ve really finished the draft (Congrats!) and it’s time to edit, steel yourself. As you read, an involuntary monologue will harangue:  “Oh God, it’s horrid! I didn’t fulfill my query and proposal promises! What am I going to do? No time!”

Take a deep breath and start excising.

After a few pages, you’ll be shocked to see your writing is tighter and less adjectivally-dripping. Lean mean clean. Repeat as needed.

Finally, remember: This is what you want to do, this is what you clawed for, clung to, and persisted at through all obstacles until you could do it. As stagnant and uphill as you feel mid-book, nothing matches the fullness of sitting and writing.

So, use what appeals to you from these ten remedies and inject others you devise that may work better. Like me, you’ll get past that mid-book slog and finish—even on time.

© 2017 Noelle Sterne

For reprinting, please contact Noelle Sterne through her site: www.trustyourlifenow.com


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and emotional counselor, Noelle has published over 400 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, Inspire Me Today, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com


The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.

See also Noelle’s other posts:

Friends – How to keep them but keep them away when you need academic immersion

For academics: What to do when your partner wails, “I never see you anymore!”

For academics: Are your kids growing up without you?

For doctoral students: Your relationship with your chair: Too chummy or too distant?