The 2 Biggest Barriers to Attending to Your Writing—Psychology and Time

This Friday, August 17, Linda Joy Myers of the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) and I are presenting a teleseminar all about the “muddy middle,” a term Linda Joy coined to describe that sticky, boggy middle place many writers know well.

You know you’ve reached the muddy middle when your enthusiasm for your project begins to wane. Where you were once enthusiastic and couldn’t wait to spend some alone time with your book project, you now eyeball the file on your computer with guilt or anxiety. You notice that you’ve relegated your writing to the backseat—to the bottom of your priority list.

But, as you probably know, your writing doesn’t want to be there. It screams (sometimes silently, but you hear it anyway) at you to come back to it. You may feel guilt, grief, or frustration with yourself. You might feel self-critical. You might make excuses. No matter what your particular coping mechanisms might be, it’s no way to move through life. And yet some people spend years actively ignoring a story or a book that wants to be told.

The muddy middle is complicated terrain to navigate, and in exploring our ideas for Friday’s call, Linda Joy and I concluded that there are only two hurdles you have to overcome to get out: your own psychology and time. Only! Hah! Trust me, I know how big these two hurdles are. They may seem insurmountable when you consider the ways in which they’ve held you back to date, but let’s unpack each of them just a little.

Psychology: Entire books have been written on the psychology of writing, and your orientation toward life of course affects the writing of your book. Your individual tendencies come into play here. Maybe you’re self-critical and don’t believe what you have to say matters. Maybe you struggle with self-worth or struggle with the idea that writing (especially memoir!) is self-indulgent. Maybe you have a fear of success. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and so anything less than perfect isn’t good enough—so you just sit on the book that’s sure to disappoint you by not being perfect. The inner critic and the outer critics play a big role in the muddy middle. These are voices—our own and those of family members, past teachers and mentors, former and current friends—that keep us from believing in our full potential. I recently spoke to a writer who told me that her former writing coach, after reading some of her self-help materials, told her that she would throw up if she read another self-help book. Can you imagine? And yet we’re confronted with these messages—past and present—every day. My partner’s father once told her that writing was a waste of time, and that message (three decades old) continues to plague her writing life. And the list of psychological barriers we must overcome to accomplish what we want—for ourselves—goes on and on and on.

Time: Those most impacted by time bandits are people with families; people who are overcommitted; and people who suffer from Bright Shiny Object Syndrome (BSOS). Time is a legitimate excuse that keeps us from our writing, no doubt. You can have a very clear psychology. Maybe you know that writing is your thing and you feel like you’ve been largely supported in your pursuits. Lucky you! And yet there are kids and partners. Or maybe you work long hours or run your own business. Those who suffer from BSOS have a time issue because they’re not staying with one project and seeing it through, and this is in fact a time-management issue. They might even create boundaries around their writing, but they’re always drawn to the next cool creative project they want to unravel—and so they end up suffering from overwhelm and not feeling like they have enough time or space to create because they’re never finishing anything. Generally, overwhelm stems from the feeling that we do not have enough time to attend to the things we want or need to do.

So, my friends, if any of the above resonates with you, you might need to come to terms with the fact that you’re stuck in the muddy middle. Whether you just have notes or drafts of chapters or complete chapters, if you’ve ever wondered what it was going to take to finish your book, then you’re in the muddy middle. I invite you to share your own muddy middle story here if you’re so inclined!

And I hope you’ll join Linda Joy and I on Friday as we talk about solutions to this problem. And while the call will be aimed toward memoirists, I think the concepts apply to any writer. At the very least we can help you find ways to lower the notches on those hurdles so that they’re low enough to try to lumber over. Once the end is in sight, things will start to feel a whole lot lighter. I promise.

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