Last week I promised a girdle analogy and I try to keep my promises. And in an odd twist, it was a girdle that prompted this mini-series of blog posts on starting, middles, and (hopefully ) finishing next week. Because, yeah, I struggle with getting through the middles almost as much as I struggle with starting. And finishing.
So, I’ve been married to a geologist for thirty+ years. I should know all about mass and pressure, right? Unfortunately, I’m also well acquainted with vanity. It only strikes when I’m meeting new people and I have to don a dress. Because it can be evil, the universe delivered me one of these moments.
In the unforgiving mirror, I faced my sagging middle, which appeared to be wholly in the grasp of a bitter gravity. [Picture The Scream here.] I had a girdle (and yes, it is a girdle, and not any of the kinder, gentler names for these torture devices) and I knew it could flatten that middle some, if I could just get it on.
I applied sufficient force and got my mass into that bad boy, and it did control the tummy. Unfortunately, mass has to go somewhere. My body has no black holes or wormholes in which to divert said mass. The cost of that flat stomach was high.
This lead to me to ponder the difficulty of middles. I’d recently traversed the middle of my book and there were times when it felt not unlike trying to squeeze my mass into that girdle. (If you need a moment to scrub your brain of girdle images, please take it.)
So we’ve started that new book, new project, or that runner is in the race. We’re all feeling great. We’ve got this handled. We’re moving, and moving is good, right?
At first, enthusiasm carries us forward. We’re the king/queen of the world! We’re on the prow of a ship that isn’t going to sink because we’re the Captain of our own fate, we are…oh, no! We’ve run aground in that desert called “the middle,” with no oasis in sight. How did this happen?
When I finished my first novel, I heaved a sigh of relief as I typed “The End.” I thought that now I knew how to finish a book, it would never be that hard again. Yeah. A bunch of projects later, I’ve learned that there is always some push back after that initial enthusiasm fades. That there will be a moment when I look around and realize that a) I’m in the middle and b) there is more work ahead of me than finished work behind. And even when I close on the finish, there’s still push back.
So how do runners and finishers do it? How do they get through the middle to that finish line?
I’ve studied my own process and I’ve noticed that a couple of things really help me:
- I have to want to finish more than I want to stop. This seems obvious, but if I’m not loving my project—even when I hate it—then I probably won’t finish it. The other thing I’ve learned is that I can fall in love with a project again. It is possible to stop, assess what’s wrong, and then push forward again. But you really have to want it. If you don’t want it, then it probably won’t happen.
- I need to have realistic expectations. Change of any kind is hard work because we’re having to change ourselves to accomplish it. Every book I write requires something different from me. Each one stretches me in a new way. Or applies pressure to my mass. (Grin) Just like physical change can be painful, internal flexing of mental muscle can be challenging. So now I expect the ass kicking. It doesn’t make it fun, but at least it isn’t a surprise.
- I need to believe people when they tell me it’s worth it. If you haven’t crossed the finish line of something new, then you don’t know how great it will feel. You have to have faith in the people who have been there, you have to believe them when they say it is worth it. Because it is worth it. It is totally worth it.
There is an element of getting through the middle that requires you to keep going when it isn’t fun, when all the fun things you could be doing are crying out for your attention. (If these are kids crying out, you should probably check on them.)
But everyone I know who start again and again, who finish over and over, do it because they know they are giving up something good, for something better. It also helps to be really stubborn. (Grin)
Next week, I want to talk about the highs and lows (yeah, there are some) of finishing. But I’d love to hear your tips for getting through the middle of your projects or challenges. All comments are entered into my monthly drawing for $10 AnaBanana gift card. Winner is announced in the first blog post of the new month.
Pauline Baird Jones is sort of stuck in a sort of middle. She is in the middle of independently releasing Relatively Risky, her first romantic suspense novel in five years. Because she wants it to be a smooth release, she is taking longer than planned. For updated information, and to learn about her other books, pop over to her website at paulinebjones.com. Her books are available in print, digital and audio.