“Everything I’ve written …has seemed to me, at one point or another, something I probably ought to abandon. Even the best things I’ve written have seemed to me at some point to be very unlikely to be worth the effort I had already put into them. But I know I have to push through….For me, it’s more important to keep the discipline of finishing things than to be assured at every moment that it’s worth doing.”
Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy’s Life
“Everything can look like a failure in the middle.”
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
How True! When starting a new writing project, it’s natural to feel hopeful and excited — after all, anything is possible. And When a project is finally completed, we often feel a sense of satisfaction and well, completion. But in between, there’s what Tim Brown, the CEO of the creative think tank IDEO calls , “…a negative emotional valley labeled ‘insight.” This is a very tough place to be, because we often feel that we’ve lost our way and are floundering.
Many writers and other creatives become so downhearted when they hit this phase of a project, that they give up. But brown notes that it can be easier to survive and push through this phase if we realize that failure in the middle of a project is a natural, predictable part of the creative process and should be expected
In her wonderful guide, The Art of Slow Writing, Louise DeSalvo, the author of seventeen books, has an entire chapter called “Failure in the Middle” in which she highlights the authors I’ve quoted here. In it, she also shares her own experience with this stage: “For me, too, the toughest part of the writing process comes in the middle. Middle. Muddle. That’s how it’s always been, although I forget from one book to the next. I start a book, excited. I go to the desk eagerly, write page after page, scene after scene. I don’t yet know what the book is about, but at the beginning, I don’t need to . At this stage, anything goes.”
As Louise describes it, for her this excitement can sustain her through a draft and even revising. “But then, there’s that moment when we realize that a mass of pages, no matter how good they are, no matter how good they might become, don’t constitute a book. A book is different in kind, not in degree, from a mass of pages. This is the dreaded middle.” Even though we feel like a failure, at this point, adds Louise, “it’s a necessary stage that no creative person can avoid.”
The only way out of the middle — and this is the tough part — is to write through it. So, it you’re in the middle of something and feeling muddled, just keep going! For more help, see my posts, “Fall-apart Stage” and “Sloe Writing,” — and be sure to check out Louise DeSalvo’s great guide, The Art of Slow Writing. And then, wherever you are, just sit down — and write on!