The Muddled Middle


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.


About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: My blog is here: Or friend me on Facebook!

4 responses »

  1. This is why I tell myself the story over and over again, but still, even with a good outline, I can still have a horrid mess in the middle. One of my writing teachers said, throw a parrot in … I say that might work in a novel or your quilt. Your quilts are stunning, by the way, and I always enjoy what you share.

  2. Maureen,
    Perhaps it’s time to write a revised outline when you hit the muddled middle. By the way, I love to hear the words “muddled middle” roll off my tongue or attempt to. Try saying that ten times as fast as you can. I LOVE the wildlife quilt. We’ve all spent time in that vast wasteland. Art and wisdom abound in your posts.

    • Oh, the outlines I have revised! It’s interesting, Linda… I only wrote one book ‘straight through’ with no problems anywhere. Short stories are easier because my outlines are usually almost as long as the story itself! The ‘muddled middles’ (it IS fun to say that, isn’t it?) sneak up on me all the time, but now I have learned to expect them and greet them with an eye roll and a certain amount of fatalism!
      Thank you for liking my quilt… it’s actually a small hanging. I love it, too, and felt a little sad when someone bought it. But he (the buyer) said he loved wolves, so that made it all right!

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