Stories from a life in progress.

The Dread Middle

We've done a lot of work to move things out of my apartment into my new home, but that project has bogged down.  The primary reason being that I'm bogged down.  There's been time taken out for the holidays, but mostly I just haven't set to work on it.

My "moving project" has reached the Dread Middle.

It's a phenomenon I've known about for a long time.  When I start something new, the excitement and intrigue of a new project propel me through a lot of work.  Curiosity beckons me on, and nothing has had time to become ordinary and dull.

When I get near the end of a project, as soon as I detect there is a real and definite THE END and I could be there pretty soon, my energy and motivation jump.  I don't want to do anything else except work on the thing and get to THE END.  There's such satisfaction in being finished, and that pulls me along.

Between those two points, though, is the Dread Middle.  It's the doldrums of any large project, the area where there's no land in sight and the winds of active interest and motivation stop blowing.  It's the point where the work has become familiar enough to just not seem like much fun anymore, whether or not it's actually difficult.  Projects can languish in the Dread Middle for years.  A lot of projects never survive to reach the other side.  They go down to the Davy Jones' Locker of shipwrecked intentions, leaving forlorn detritus scattered through the backs of closets and boxes in the basement.

Knowledge of the Dread Middle keeps me from starting many worthwhile things.  My primary hesitation before starting the 40-day writing game was knowing I would have to cross the Dread Middle, and remembering my sketchy track-record at doing so successfully.  The Dread Middle was the reason I invented the 40-day writing game, rather than just giving myself a challenge of "write a blog post every day for 40 days" and leaving it there.  The 40-day game was my charted course to sail the Dread Middle and make it through to the other side.  As long as I followed the steps, one day at a time, I knew I would make it.  Every space colored in on my game board represented actual progress toward reaching THE END, when I had no other way to detect my forward momentum.

Because of the 40-day game, I'm out of the doldrums.  I can feel THE END, the glorious end, calling me on; I can see the farther shore, and I know I'm going to make it.

The moving project reminds me how important it is to chart courses for myself.  Because in that project, I'm deep in the Dread Middle and don't even want to sail out.  It's just too much like hard work.  I can't be bothered.

I don't actually have a choice about finishing that project, of course, whether or not I care.  But it would be more pleasant if I had a series of steps for getting to the end, if I could do a chunk of work every day and know that I was going to make it through.  I need help in order to perceive that, so the work doesn't become tedious drudgery and suck the life out of living.

The contrast between these two projects, the one nearing the end and the one mired in indifference, is reminding me how important games and other mental tricks are for moving me along.  The better I get at charting courses through the Dread Middle, the more I'll accomplish, and with less tedium and delay.  There's a goal worth pursuing, matey.