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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Unstuck in the Middle With You


Some friends I know who are recovering from addiction talk a lot about the bottom, the depth of depravity and desperation that they had to reach before they were willing to admit the problem at hand and seek help. I wonder sometimes if for many creators that an equally terrifying place is The Middle.

When I first get an idea that I'm excited about, I can't wait to make it happen. The hyper energized state is fun, and the initial productivity that comes through keeps my focus and consumes time in gluttonous bites. Momentum is effortless, and I'm driven to distraction in any activity that isn't related. It's all I can think about.

This beginning lasts until the inevitable Middle shows up. The Middle is usually heralded by a complication, an interruption, on an unanticipated obstacle. If you've ever encountered barre chords in a guitar lesson, you've met The Middle. Playing a barre chord requires greater hand strength than the open chords that were learned in early lessons. Barre chords are formed by holding down more than one string with one finger, sometimes holding all six strings with one finger. When I taught guitar lessons barre chords were often the stopping place for many students whose frustration overcame their initial interest.

Every endeavor has a Middle. It might show up in the form of a necessary license, or an unexpected sales tax, or just some difficulty that could never have been predicted. It may even just show up as a plot twist in your novel that becomes impossible to resolve. You can tell The Middle has arrived when certain feelings start popping up. Frustration, ambivalence, apathy, maybe even the creative person's most common friends, depression, self doubt, and anxiety appear when The Middle is on the scene.

Here are some possible ways through The Middle:
  1. Revisit Your Original Idea. Have you stayed with it, or are you straying? If you're straying,is there another possibility that you need to see that's trying to get through? As a songwriter there have been many times that I would start out with one idea that I thought was pretty strong or exciting, only to find that another song emerged from the original idea which was then scrapped or became another song altogether. There have also been a few hundred song ideas that met an end when The Middle arrived and I couldn't get them finished. As I checked out the original idea on these, I found that it wasn't as strong as initially perceived.
  2. Take a Break. Let it rest for a while and see what happens. Sometimes if you just give an idea or project a little bit of time and space, it will come pushing back in to be completed. Sometimes after you've been focused on something with a great amount of intensity your senses and perceptions start to narrow to a point where you can't see what you're doing objectively. Give it a rest and come back to it. If you're worried that you won't ever finish, then give yourself a re-entry date. Choose a date on the calendar and commit to coming back to the project then. 
  3. Finish One Task. If you've started a business and you suddenly find that someone else has also started a business with the exact same name as yours, maybe it's time to get that trademark paperwork finished. This step is especially appropriate in those times when you keep putting off taking action. You probably already know that putting off taking action often results in a greater problem. Balance the checkbook, finish your taxes, get them done early. If you're stalled on a creative project just choose one part of it to finish. Any progress you make will initiate a greater flow.
  4. Clean Your Space. I'm the worst about this. My studio has been a mess for years. I create clutter more quickly than anyone else I know. Clutter makes my space unbearable to work in. I've learned more about this in the past few years than ever before. Make your space easy to work in. Keep the tools out that you need for your project. Everything else needs a place to be put away. Pay your bills as they come in. Don't let paper pile beyond the point of usefulness. I know, I'm a piler. I find things more easily in piles than files, but my piles are out of control and it's affecting my ability to get things done. If you can't bear to do it yourself, hire a feng shui guide to help you out. 
  5. Just Get It Done. Finish your first draft. Go ahead and write out the whole song. Make a prototype and figure out what works and what doesn't. Sometimes The Middle is just a honing time where you actually get to see what needs more work and what doesn't. Like my guitar students learning barre chords, the ones who succeeded were the ones who didn't give up.  They practiced until they could play them. Resistance is created completely by thought. It's actually easier to create flow. Flow doesn't require thinking as much as it requires doing. Just go ahead and finish.
  6. Quiet Your Thinking. Thinking is great. It's the first step in creating anything, but sometimes we can think too much. Getting your mind into a more calm and clear state makes it possible to focus and perform more effortlessly. People who meditate often are able to bring a strong sense of grounding and confidence to their creating which makes their processes easier and more effective than people who just try to think their way through. Give your thoughts a rest and get your mind clear.
  7. Take Smaller Steps. When I was a music major in college, I practiced between five and six hours every day. One of the practice techniques that served me well was to choose the most difficult passages of a piece and break those passages up into smaller phrases. Then I'd practice each phrase repeatedly, first at a slow speed and gradually building until I was playing at the performance pace. Focus on the quality of a small segment of work and make it shine. You will start to see that this kind of attention to smaller sections creates more ease in the entire creative process.
  8. Maybe It's Not a Good Idea, Or Maybe It's Not the Right Idea. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" is a hallmark statement that I hear from every creative person that I know, as well as some family members who have registration numbers with the Department of Corrections. Sometimes in the moment an idea seems really great and exciting, but after working to bring the idea to life, you realize it's just not all that interesting, or it doesn't really line up with your values. Maybe the idea is a good one, but it's not the right time. Sometimes that idea is just a stinker and can't be helped with any intervention. With experience we learn to discern which possibilities our imagination generates are the ones that we need to pursue. Other times we just learn by trial and error, or trial and success. Either way we learn when to let go of a project that we're no longer able to energize and complete.
The Middle is going to show up in every corner of our creative lives. It can be uncomfortable. I think it's intolerable for a good reason; the discomfort moves us either toward commitment, or toward the door. If you're an author with a partially finished book, a painter with a studio full of canvasses that still don't satisfy, or a guitar student struggling to play the perfect F chord, this stage won't last forever. Take small steps and keep moving. You will gather momentum again and reach a finishing point, or you may decide to just focus on something else altogether. 

If you're feeling like you've reached The Middle in one of your creative projects, I may be able to help you get through it more quickly and effectively. Request a free initial session here to find out...