Never mind that it is cold and blustery outside, inside wheels are turning. For me, this is a time when new projects, new plots and designs all clamor for precedence. During these short days when the earth rests and patient trees sigh for warmer winds, my always messy workspace becomes a confusion of fabrics and a jumble of notes. Timid souls who venture up here mutter things about the Sargasso Sea as they hurriedly make their exit.
Beginnings are exciting. Like a bursting firework comes that first inspiration, and it is followed by possibilities. These are my characters, and this is the germ of a plot. I will follow it here and here and… oh, what fun! I know just how everything will turn out at the end, too. So, boot up the computer, start writing with fervor and drive and direction. And then…
The problem is the and then that cometh to me soon or late. The joy and drive of the beginning lasts until the bubble bursts and I stare out upon the wasteland of pages that must be crossed—metaphorically speaking—before I come to the end.
What to do? Well, here is that neat little outline I’ve written down to guide me through the Muddled Middle. This is what I always promote in writing workshops. ‘Write your outline, and it will be your blueprint, your guide,’ I have said, and usually this is true. But occasionally—well, more than occasionally—the outline is no use because I have tossed out several characters, added two, and changed the plot line significantly. So far my first draft has no resemblance to the original story that once had me rubbing my hands in glee.
Now is the time for the tearing of hair, for the grinding and gnashing of teeth. With enthusiasm diminishing and the end of the story far, I wonder: should I soldier on and complete what I have started or… dreaded thought… chuck the wretched thing?
The Muddled Middle Syndrome invades the world of fabric, too. At the start of a project, I am full of confidence. I’ve pictured the design in my mind and even made a rudimentary sketch; colors have been chosen, a background constructed. All that is needed is to put beautiful fabrics together. But once the fabric pieces are cut and sewn together the colors don’t marry. Bother! Perhaps I should take the whole thing apart?
Tell me of any writer or artist who does not dread the Muddled Middles, and I acknowledge a Master. Dickens, I’ve heard, wrote the whole of The Christmas Carol at one gulp, and I am green with envy. Perhaps the three Spirits (or some other kind of spirits) had something to do with it.
Maybe if I take a break and read a book, inspiration will return? But though the book starts well and the characters are engaging and I do want to know what happens to them, there are six hundred and three pages between me and the end!
This can’t go on, I tell myself. The Muddled Middles must be dealt with, and there is nothing for it but to face up to my projects. Sighing, I get back to work. And the strange, the really incredible thing is that once the Muddled Middles have been conquered, I never understand why I had such problems in the first place. What was all the fuss about? I wonder as I finish the last chapter or sew the binding to a completed piece. This wasn’t so hard, after all. Nothing to it!
Now, in my next project…
Between the first step
And the long awaited goal
Lies a vast wasteland.