6 Steps for Surviving the “Angsty Middle” of the Creative Process

Creative process, change, transitionChange is like an Oreo cookie. There’s a crispness to the beginning and end…but the middle is sticky and gooey.  I suspect it’s the same with the creative process.

It doesn’t matter what you create…

There’s that angsty little bit in the middle. It’s sticky and gooey,  but it isn’t all that sweet.

Our creative processes, like the muse that drives us, are uniquely ours. We can mould, form, write, compose, paint, sculpt, but for most of us, there’s that little bit in the middle where our hearts are stricken with fear and we think we’ve effed it up.

It’s a little eerie and quite coincidental that a year ago this month I wrote a post called “The Middle.” In it, I offer tips for dealing with change in one’s life. As someone who has worked extensively with human behaviour, I‘m waaaay more comfortable with managing life transitions than creative ones. In “The Middle” I explored how our takeaways from  life transitions are transferrable to other events in our lives. Now, I’m thinking they may be scalable, too; scalable down to the creative process.

This month, I’ve been exploring our unique creative processes. Given the privilege of speaking with a few artists I deeply respect, I realized the “middle, angsty experience” may not be unique to me or occur because I’m a newer painter. There’s a good chance the “middle” never goes away. (click to Tweet) So, could someone please pass the milk, as I gag down these Oreos, one after the other?

It dawned on me,  as I draft these weekly articles, I hit a middle on the page. Not the geographical middle, a creative middle. The difference is, after many years of writing my middle feels like a natural, controllable part of my process. Truth be known, I may even unconsciously look forward to the cookies. Given the number of times I’ve been in my “writing middle,” I’ve learned to trust that it will all be okay. When I write, I simply save the draft and walk away. I come back and revise a little more. It’s no longer terrifying. My painting middle….not so much. The validation from these other artists that they too know about “the middle,” is PRICELESS!

So, in the spirit of “middles” I’ve slightly modified tips for navigating life’s middle, to tips for navigating our creative middle. I’d love to know how this formula works for you. Here’s how to ease into, and maybe even feel comfortable in, the uncomfortable middle:

1. Walk in your integrity – Of course, you have a concept for your work when you begin…but a little way into the process it can be hard to know exactly what you’re aiming for. Often, you just know what you don’t want. That’s a starting place. Remain aligned with your intention; it will guide you. (click to Tweet)

2. Trust you are where you’re supposed to be – It’s scary to feel lost, but as we work and create, questions arise. It’s tempting to want answers right away, but you might have to be patient. Keep working your way through the piece or the process.

3. Know, as time goes on, more will be revealed – As you step deeper into your journey, trust more will be revealed. Be open to the prospect the piece may not look exactly as you envisioned. Sometimes, it’s even better than you imagined. Have faith. Faith is good.

4. Leverage your skills and knowledge and apply them to the current work – Remember the technical aspect of your craft. That is your foundation. Those skills are transferrable. Figure out how to make the most of them!

5. Ask for help – Most people are happy to provide resources, information and light assistance. However, remember often the answers have to come from you. It’s your artwork. You do the heavy lifting, but critique groups and mentors can be very, very helpful.

6. Take steps to create the future you want – Small steps can lead to larger strides. They make you feel empowered.  Not taking action will not make you a better artist, practicing your art will. (click to Tweet) Keep chipping away and you will see improvement. The more times you come out in one piece on the other side of it, the deeper you will come to know this.

I realize this is an esoteric topic. It’s largely based on my experience…but I’m curious. How many of you experience a “middle” in your creative process? Is it angsty? Did you previously experience and “middle” but found it went away, or are you just choking down the creamy centers more effortlessly than before?

Please, Pass the Milk,

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 Michelle Andres is a writer, artist and coach who nudges, nay, shoves, her clients in the direction of their dreams, helping them to overcome non-productive behaviours and enjoy more success in Writer, Artist, Coachtheir lives.
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11 Replies to “6 Steps for Surviving the “Angsty Middle” of the Creative Process”

  1. “Angsty middle”–omigosh, perfect. I was just telling a friend I was feeling all moochy in marketing my two screenplays–a main and a sequel. I research prodcos, I go to sites, I email, I even write paper letters, on and on…I was feeling glum. This perfectly described that feeling and in making me smile, you did me a great service.

  2. I very much enjoyed this post and its message. I experience a feeling of some anxiety in the middle of my work as well. I keep it constantly in view when I am relaxing on the sofa in the evenings so that those “aha” moments come along more frequently to aim me in new “stretchier” directions. My method of working always somehow works itself, if you get my drift.

    1. Claudia, that’s wonderful. What a great idea to keep it in view. I sometimes put mine in places that I only occasionally go…if the work catches me by surprise, I think it’s done – or nearly done. ~m

  3. I absolutely experience these “middles”! It used to strike fear in my gut, like I had somehow ‘lost’ my artistic gift. I still feel the initial stab of panic, but now know to trust that ‘this too shall pass’. Sometimes the piece ends up where I intended and sometimes it goes off in a new direction, but it somehow gets past what I call the YUK stage. It may take walking away for a period of time – could be weeks – but I ultimately return, make a few marks on the surface, and I am off and running again. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Susan, thanks for sharing the “Yuk” part of your process and how you trust your way through it. It’s reassuring to know so many of us experience this lull in our process and that the games it plays between are ears are only played with our permission. Thanks!

  4. Hello Michelle. I moved house and lost computer files etc. I looked for you but couldn’t find you. I stopped looking then found you.. much much later.

    I am a teacher of a course I wrote called. Finding Meaning in Making. I had so much inspiration in the past. Glad I am here! Sheila

    1. I’m so glad we’re reunited, Sheila! I haven’t been posting as regularly as the last 4 years, but still publish something now and then. Keep looking for me, or sign up for updates and you’ll ever miss a thing. Your course sounds lovely! ~m

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