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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : Stuck in the Middle

Be Mused

Stuck in the Middle

Dear Muse,

For the past year I've been writing a book. As I come toward the middle of the book in its revisions, I'm getting stuck. It's like when I'm running — I get to a point where I sort of scare myself energy-wise and I stop.

How can I confront this fear and what is it exactly that I'm afraid of? The subject matter is my family, but it's well-covered territory in my mind and now on paper.

Do you have any suggestions for me to push past this anxiety and bravely finish the book with all my gusto? — Runnin' Scared in Omaha

When you are as stuck as you appear to be it seems that nothing can un-stick you. The truth is the middle — not the end and certainly not the beginning — really is the hardest part. Research on long-term space flights suggests that astronauts have the most difficult time psychologically at the halfway point of their missions. They report more lethargy and irritability and increased homesickness too. Nevertheless, most all of them manage to make it back home. I think you can too. But first consider some good reasons to leave one's work unfinished.

Death is a great reason. A fatal heart attack forced Edith Wharton to leave her novel, The Buccaneers, unfinished in 1937. It was eventually completed by Marion Mainwaring, but I don't recommend dying in order to get someone else to finish your manuscript.

Some writers clearly have bitten off too much to chew. English poet John Milton tried to write a very complex poem (which I won't attempt to explain because I don't really understand it myself…) to accompany his famous Nativity poem. He managed eight stanzas of "The Passion" and then gave up. Someone slapped a note at the end which pointed out that Milton believed his subject "to be above the years he had, when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished."

Now for the so-so reasons. Some writers are easily distracted and lose interest, but I sense that you are no dilettante. Others are paralyzed by their own perfectionism. Still others are afraid of what will or will not happen once they finish their projects. You already know that fear is your obstacle. And somewhere in there you already know what you're afraid of, but, in case you don't believe that, I have a few ideas for you.

Maybe you're afraid that the book you've been writing for the past year really sucks. That no one will want to publish it. Hell, that no one will even want to read it. Perhaps you're worried about what your family will say. What others will think of you once they've seen the artistic side of you buck-naked. You would be no different than any other writer, living or dead.

I think you are most afraid of success. You say, "I get to a point where I sort of scare myself energy-wise and I stop." Are you merely concerned that you won't have enough mental and physical energy to complete the task at hand? Or do you begin to see your potential as an energetic and powerful writer? What if it's a fluke? What if you can't keep it up?

You have clearly given being stuck in the middle of your book a lot of thought, but how much thought have you given to being finished? Oh, sure, there's the desire to be finished, but that doesn't count. I want you to imagine yourself scrawling "The End" on the last page whenever you feel especially stuck.

"Just do it" works adequately for some athletes but not nearly so well for artists. I had hoped I could spare you Nike's well-worn phrase, but I must admit that this slightly modified version applies: Just do it anyway. The difference between accomplished writers and writers forever stuck mid-manuscript? The accomplished writers willed themselves to finish despite their worst fears and so much chatter in their own heads. If you want to finish the book you'll have to do this too. •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

Susan M. Brackney Need a little help finding your way on the road less traveled? Susan M. Brackney, author of The Lost Soul Companion will try to solve your creative quandaries. More »