(For the month of November 2011, I am embarking on a 30-Day Challenge to finish a final rewrite of my young adult novel. To do so, I am taking a hiatus from posting my Tuesday morning flyingnotscreaming essays. Essays will resume the first week of December, 2011. In the meantime, I am posting a weekly Hiatus Report on my progress during my 30-Day Challenge. See the essay “My Next 30-Day Challenge” for more information.)
I’ve nearly completed the beginning and ending chapters of my young adult novel, but I am struggling mightily with the middle section. This doesn’t come as a surprise. In a college psychology course, I learned that each of us have a tendency to be a starter, a middler, or an ender. I, no doubt about it, am a starter. I love beginnings, shiny new goals, the planning stage of potential projects. And I don’t really mind the end, wrapping everything up, finding that perfect last sentence, seeing where I was lead. But I hate the middle. The middle is where I tend to get sidetracked, where I struggle to stay focused and confident. The middle is where many of my goals get waylaid and I fall short of the finish line.
It’s ironic that this week, in the middle of my 30-Plus Day Challenge, I’ve been humming a song from the children’s album NO! by the group They Might Be Giants. It goes something like this:
“Don’t cross the street in the middle in the middle in the middle in the middle in the middle of the block.
Don’t cross the street in the middle in the middle in the middle in the middle in the middle of the block.”
This is good advice because my old “friends” Boredom and Doubt are beckoning me from the other side of the street and I am sorely tempted to join them. As usual, Boredom tries to lure me with projects that seem much more interesting than the young adult novel I am laboring over. “You should abandon fiction and get back to nonfiction,” he says. “Or what about that craft business you once had. You really could make a go of that. Everyone’s always telling you to open a bakery. No time like the present. Or how about something totally new like EMT training. You’d be a great paramedic. Now THAT would be exciting.”
When Boredom has assaulted me with all the pretty new possibilities, Doubt steps in to seal the deal. In her quiet voice she begins to ask the hard questions: “Is this young adult novel really going anywhere? Isn’t this kind of a waste of time? You could be doing so many other things, couldn’t you? Aren’t you being kind of selfish? Shouldn’t you find work that at least brings in a few bucks? Isn’t the whole world trying to write a novel? What makes you think yours is ever going to be any better than anyone else’s?” Her voice is constant and mesmerizing, and terribly hard to resist.
All week long I’ve been trying to ignore the block party across the street, but it is difficult. It’s lonely and dull over on my side. It’s frustrating and a lot of work and I can’t see the end from where I currently am. Seduced by Doubt, I have started to ask myself, “Why am I doing this again? Is this just a waste of time?” The more often I ask, the harder it becomes to get any writing done.
But over and over again, the silly lines of that children’s song play in my head. “Don’t cross the street in the middle in the middle in the middle of the block.” Louder and louder this phrase repeats until it becomes a mantra that drowns out the voices calling from the other side. And with those tempting suggestions gone and the questions banished, I realize I can write again.
Slowly it dawns on me that perhaps the middle is not a time for asking and answering questions. Perhaps the middle is a time for doing and nothing else. The questions are often what start me on my journey and answering the questions helps me find a satisfying conclusion, but the middle is a time of faith in what is, in decisions already made, in options already chosen.
In his book How God Changes Your Brain, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg states that maintaining faith is the number one way to enhance our brain power. He isn’t necessarily talking about faith in God or being faithful to a particular religious practice. He is talking about faith in the face of uncertainty regarding each and every decision we make. He writes, “If we don’t have faith that we’re making the best decision we can, then we will be swallowed up in doubt. And doubt, at least as far as your brain is concerned, is a precarious state in which to live.”
The question of why I am doing this challenge was answered when I began three weeks ago, and whether or not it was a worthy project will be answered when I reach the end. But as for now, I need to simply keep writing, leaning on faith when I get weary or low, and make my way steadily through the middle.