I’m someone who can’t stand being in the middle.
Whether it’s waiting for the doctor to call or the editor to respond or that guy I like to text me back, I am anxious, impatient, and filled with self-doubt. Constantly questioning, “Am I doing the right thing?” and “Is it going to work out?”
I just want to get to the end, dammit! I just want to know.
Of course, the only way out is through and when you are in the thick of it—which is most of the time—there are only two options: Quit or keep moving.
What the hell made me decide to pursue a writer’s life? A life most famous for its uncertainty, lack of guarantees, and no autopilot option. A writer must always be present. They must always be on.
Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
I try and make a trip to the local Red Cross every few months. Bleeding isn’t the problem. I’m a master bleeder. I can slice my head open and bleed all over the page.
Sometimes, I even bleed in patterns that make me think, “Yeah, this is what it’s all about.” You know that feeling.
I’m not talking about that feeling.
In fact, I’m talking about the exact opposite of that feeling: the stretches of time when you can’t even recall what that feeling feels like, and then you feel like shit.
The thing is, if you spend all of your time chasing the highs, you won’t learn to appreciate the lows. Hell, let’s not even go that far. What about the in-betweens? The middles. Those obligatory words sandwiched between “Once upon a time” and “the end.” When the phrases dripping from your fingers don’t hit the page or the screen in the right order and you find yourself thinking, “If only someone would just pat me on the head and say, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll all be worth it.’”
But, of course, there are no guarantees. Not in life or art or love or anything else, for that matter. You don’t have to be an artist or entrepreneur to know that feeling or to have felt the absence of it. Writing just happens to be my thing, but for you, it might be something else. Perhaps it’s caring for children or baking pies or preparing tax returns (no, really). Whatever twists your noodle.
And when the in-betweens seem to stretch on forever, when you have no clue if the light at the end of the tunnel is an opening or a speeding train, you can do one of two things:
You can quit, or, keep moving.
Sometimes it’s okay to quit. There’s no rule that says you absolutely must see this project through. Some pieces are better left on the drawing board or as an incomplete word document in the badlands of your laptop’s hard drive.
The problem with quitting is that it’s really just another kind of limbo.
And it might be the closest thing we have to a guarantee: if you stop dancing, painting, writing, baking, singing, etc.ing, you can rest assured that you’re probably never going to experience that feeling again—at least, not from that particular activity.
For some people, that might be okay. Personally, I’ve come to prefer the agony of the middle to the sad certainty of a premature end.
Learn to love—or, at least, like—limbo. Make friends with the middle. Be grateful for being betwixt. There are no sort cuts and in the space between birth and death, all we have is the meantime. All we have is now.
Now is the time for mistakes and masterpieces but you won’t make either if you’re too busy mourning yesterday or obsessing over tomorrow.
Today, I finished the first draft of the 6th chapter of my novel-in-progress, which doesn’t sound very impressive until I clarify that there are only going to be 8 chapters, plus an epilogue. So far, this almost-book is the longest thing I’ve ever written and I’ve learned so much in the process of writing it that, when I go back and reread the first chapter, I cringe at all of the glaring mistakes (en vs. em dashes, adverbs galore, dialogue tags, etc.). At the same time, that’s how I know I’m heading in the right direction: the later chapters are noticeably better; therefore, I must be doing something right.
If you find yourself stuck in the middle, go back and take another look at where you started. Listen to the very first song you ever recorded; take a look at the initial draft of your business plan; go find a photo of the first wedding cake you baked—you know, the one that resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa covered in fondant. Sometimes it takes a bird’s eye view to give us a clear perspective on how far we’ve come. If your middle is in any way better than your beginning, then you know you’re heading somewhere.
And that somewhere might just be the end.
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4 thoughts on “Minding the Middle: How to Keep Going When There Are No Guarantees”
There’s a lot about this article that applies to many things in my life. Learning how to be in the middle, how to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity, has been vital to living my life the way I want. Learning to do that and be productive… well, that’s the next step. 😛
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I plan on writing a post about organization and productivity in the not-too-distant future 😛
I really needed to read this today, I feel like I’m in a barren wasteland with so many of my projects.
Reading this has made me come to realise that the good thing about wasteland is that you can build whatever you like on it.
Thank you for your insight.
Glad my ramblings could be of use 🙂 Let me know when/if you post something on your WP blog, as I don’t always check my feed. Thanks for commenting!