Writer working Main More than a few MFA teachers talk about the politics of their English departments in such a way that it sounds like an episode of House of Cards. Criticizing students, fellow teachers, the program, or even the effectiveness of creative writing programs in general — it has to be a careful dance. One ex-teacher, now freed of such considerations, has let it rip in an article called "Things I can say about MFA writing programs now that I no longer teach in one." In his article for The Stranger, Ryan Boudinot says: “I recently left a teaching position in a master of fine arts creative-writing program. I had a handful of students whose work changed my life. The vast majority of my students were hardworking, thoughtful people devoted to improving their craft despite having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it. My hope for them was that they would become better readers. And then there were students whose work was so awful that it literally put me to sleep. Here are some things I learned from these experiences.”

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How to Keep the Middle of Your Novel From Sagging: Lessons from The Walking DeadDon't let the reader get bogged down in the middle of your book

Do you watch The Walking Dead on AMC? If not, I'll catch you up: it's part zombie apocalypse, part Poseidon Adventure, with a sprinkling of Lord of the Flies, Lost, Survivor, and Unforgiven. For the first two seasons, I was hooked. Then I read the comic books that the show is based on — reading well beyond the point at which the TV series had left off. From that vantage I could really see how much the 3rd season was dragging, dragging, dragging — stretching what was probably 50 pages of comic book plot into thirteen 45-minute episodes. A big let-down. But the real problem with the TV adaptation this season wasn't necessarily that it got stretched, but that everyone — viewers, critics, readers of the comic book, even the characters in the show — knew precisely where the plot was headed at the end of that stretch. So while there were a few minor twists and turns along the way, the eventual outcome seemed certain. And every episode that passed without that event occuring felt not like an intensification of suspense, but yet another let-down. So without risking the same long sag in this article, I'll get right to the point: don't let the middle of your novel drag. Writers spend so many hours crafting great beginnings and endings. They're usually not as careful with the middle — and, as author SJ Rozan says, the middle is why we read books.

So here's 4 things to keep in mind as you journey through the middle of your own novel-writing experience:

1) If the structure of your story is pre-determined, don't linger on any one plot point longer than you need to. Tell it well and move along.

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Is it possible to make your own MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing? Probably not, but we outline a plan that will make you a better writer if you stick with it long enough.

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Writing a novel is a little like getting back in shape. When you're towards the beginning of the process, it's sometimes easier to read ABOUT the work than to actually DO the work. See, here you are reading this! (Which I appreciate, by the way.) But let's face it, unless you're trying to solve some specific problem of character, plot, or tone, chances are good that you're going to learn more by actually writing than by reading ABOUT writing! When we're being honest with ourselves, we know if we're on the right track or not. So stop reading this; glue your butt to your chair; trust your intuition; play around on the page; try out different possibilities; and — as NIKE says — Just Do It! No distractions. No excuses.

Writing a novel: free resources for authors

Wait – you're still reading? OK. Well, writing IS hard work, after all — so...

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(Editor's Note: This article was written by guest contributor Ali Luke, author of Lycopolis.)

Ever given up on writing a book when it was halfway finished?

Lots of writers run out of steam along the way. Others don’t even begin: they have a great idea, but are creatively paralyzed at the starting line. And worse still, some writers struggle all the way from the first sentence to the last line ... only to find that their book needs massive structural revisions. They might even scrap it completely. You don't want to find yourself there. Instead, set yourself up for success right from the start of the journey. Here’s how.

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