With any project or goal that you set for yourself there are STAGES. There’s the BEGINNING when you are excited and your motivation level is on full-throttle.
There’s the END, when the finish line is in sight and the excitement you felt at the beginning of the project resurfaces.
And then there is the MIDDLE. Ugh! What I like to call the Messy Middle . . .
This is usually when your energy is low, the finish line seems nowhere in sight, and the project that you are working on seems like a big fat mess.
The bumps and hick ups reveal themselves. Problems arise. You may feel stuck and unsure of the solution for moving forward.
Your beautiful, brilliant project now seems overwhelming, impossible, and uncertain.
What to do? What to do?
For starters, know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. What you are experiencing in your project/goal journey is PART OF THE PROCESS. This Messy Middle is an absolute.
While some Messy Middles are messier than others, there will always be a Messy Middle at some point.
It is the GETTING PAST IT that is up for you to accomplish. The Messy Middle is the Make or Break period. This is when you either decide that you will KEEP ON TRUCKIN’ or GIVE UP.
I love, love, love this quote from Christine Kane (see left image). It summarizes so brilliantly the importance of not letting one hick up stop us from moving forward.
Because, again, there will be setbacks.
Case in point — writing my novel. Writing is far from a glamorous process. It is messy and frustrating. Words do not always flow. The beginning of writing a novel is enjoyable because you have convinced yourself that your wonderful idea is now going to breath life. How exciting!
But then when the work becomes harder and the writing doesn’t come easily, the doubt can easily take hold.
“Seriously, why am I wasting my time?” “This is horrible.” These are just some of the thoughts that come to my mind.
Even though I have almost completed my novel (first draft), I consider myself in the Messy Middle. Why? Because, I need to step back and fix the structural parts of my novel. My writing is not always about moving forward. Sometimes, it is necessary for me to move backwards and re-work what has been written. That is where I am now.
So what do you do?
This is what works for me.
(1) WALK AWAY. I walk away from my work and give myself a chance to distance myself from the frustration that is innate with production. It is my inclination to force things–to force the end, the outcome because I am not the most patient of people.
But knowing this, I step away from my novel and then STEP INTO A QUIET SPACE. I give myself a chance to reflect, digest, mull over, and then take an outsider’s approach to the problem at hand. In my case, it is finishing my novel.
(2) ASK YOURSELF WHAT IS HOLDING YOU BACK?
- Is it FEAR?
If so, then take a moment to VISUALIZE the image that you had in your head when you first began. Remind yourself of how you felt in the beginning when you truly believed it was possible. See yourself completing your goal. See it, feel it, believe it, and soak in that feeling. It is necessary in order for you to RECOMMIT yourself to your goal.
- Is it LACK OF KNOWING what to do next?
If so, then step away and mull over your solutions.
I am taking a day off tomorrow to devote myself to this completion. A day where I can step away from the stress, reflect, and look at the big picture from an outsider’s view. In one of my blogs, I talk about stereograms and its analogy for explaining my writing process—Writing in the Zone.
It’s almost as if I allow myself to go into a hypnotic state—one that is not dictated by my natural tendency to edit as I go. One that allows me to step back and look at the big picture. It is only then, that I can create, reformat, change the timing and structure of my novel. And then, and only then, can I become an editor, polishing my work into a finished project.
Gain insight from a good night’s sleep. When I am “stuck,” I often go to bed mulling over what I am trying to figure out. I don’t stress over it. Instead, I relax and trust that the night will give me clarity and insight. And you know what? It often does.
“You never have to change anything
you got up in the middle of the night to write.”
– Saul Bellow
(3) TRUST THE PROCESS. I have written about this a lot, but it is the truth.
I had a teacher once give a cross stitching analogy which can be applied to the Messy Middle. She talked about the backside of a cross stitching project and how ugly it is–with strings randomly stitched and without a clear picture of what is being created.
That is the backside; the front side presents a much different image.
When we are working on our projects, what WE SEE is often the backside—the unglamorous side–and seeing it can often deter us from finishing.
TRUST that the finished project will reveal a “front side” and know that the Messy Middle can often be a Mangled Mess.
“Making records is like making hot dogs.
You’ll probably enjoy them more if you don’t see how it’s done.”
– Bono (U2)
(4) ELIMINATE THE NEED TO BE PERFECT.
They say that a perfect product is never produced. If there were, then we’d never have to deal with computer and phone upgrades.
Instead of focusing so hard on making things perfect, concentrate on the finish line–knowing that once completed, you can then go back and polish and improve upon it.
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Take comfort in Ernest Hemingway’s words and forge ahead. After all, a bad COMPLETED project is BETTER than an UNCOMPLETED project.
And lastly Step #5, which is my challenge for you. . .
(5) RECOMMIT TO YOUR GOAL.
Set time aside, figure out your next steps, and make it happen!
24 thoughts on “How to Get Past the Messy Middle”
I agree with trusting the process. When that doesn’t work, it may be the time for imagination and innovative to create a totally new process.
Bruce, looking forward to see some more of your writing!
I want to say the messy middle is the worst. But really it is where growth happens as frustrating as it may be.
I agree that taking a break when the going gets hard gives me some more energy to come back and attack it with gusto.
Walking away and coming back with a clearer mind definitely helps. Also, when I am working on projects I try to break them down into very small tasks that I can accomplish much easier. Plus, smaller tasks always show you that you are progressing once you complete them.
I have copied and pasted your points because I am currently in the middle of the project, and I need to read and read again your 5 points to get me through haha. It’s all exciting at the start but sometimes I just wish I was at the end now lol. Thank you! 💚
I am glad that the tips helped! I often say that I wish I had a magic want to just get me to the “end” of the project. Keep it up!
Thank you! 💚
I really liked this post. Im going to start using that “the messy middle”
thanks for the tips. i’ve written a book a few years ago and i feel like im in the messy middle LO i gotta fix it up and every time i do i always find something to add or change…
as much frustrating it can be it where growth happens great post
I needed to see this today! Great post! Thank you!
Messy middle is a kind of frustrating but could learn a lot I agree all you said in this post nice article!
This is a very useful and motivational read to help you push past things when you’re feeling stuck.
I agree that it makes sense to take a break and then get going with the plan. Hurries don’t lead anywhere.
Are you taking part of NaNoWriMo (as you said you are writing a novel and tis the month for making a novel)? I understand the part of writing as when I write my blog post, I am far from finish when I hit the publish button. It isn’t perfect, and I accept, but I do go back and edit from time to time. I change and so does my writing. It also improves.
I am not taking part in NaNo this year — not technically at least — although I am trying to complete my draft this month. Thanks for asking.
I just take a pause and inhale to come out of my messy middle zone 🙂
Take a break, taking a deep breath this is how I always get my strength to start over or taking care of any mess.
Ah, some sage advice! I didn’t know projects had a messy middle. I’ve always faced the inertia when it begins and right before it ends (crossing the finishing line is somewhat daunting). Great read!
Exactly stop, breathe and keep going. It helps the creativity! Great blog
I can relate with my blogging journey. I was also in a stage of messy middle when I thought to give up. But I found some inspirational video which helped to stick to this journey.