Start In the Middle: Advice For When You’re Stuck


middleI stare at a blank page and can think of nothing to say. My anxiety grows. With every minute that passes devoid of inspiration, I panic. My breath speeds up and I can feel my amygdala, the fear center within my brain, getting ready to send out invites to a party. I am overwhelmed and frustrated. I feel defeated, pathetic, deflated. The longer I stare at the screen, the more convinced I am that I’ll never be able to craft another sentence in my life.  I wait for something to happen, but am too disabled to let it happen. My breath shortens still more. My heart beats faster. Tears well up in my eyes. And I shake with anxiety.

It’s an acute case of writer’s block, but it’s also an accurate description of how each of us feel in the throws of a depressive episode or anxiety spell. You want to move forward. You would do anything to be productive. But you are stuck in this invisible closet where you are constrained, constricted in all movements until you somehow emerge from the hell.

How do you proceed?

I asked this to a writer friend of mine recently.

“I start in the middle,” she said to me. “The first sentence is too overwhelming. I can’t commit to that. So I start in the middle.”

It makes sense. There is less pressure in the middle. The beginning and the end are too weighted.

I’ve been using this wisdom not only when I am stuck as a writer, but also when I’m paralyzed by the laundry, when the dishes chase me, when my cluttered desk scowls at me, when I can’t concentrate at work, when socializing is less enjoyable than a dental cleaning. It applies to larger things, too: choosing a career, navigating a stagnant relationship, figuring how I’m supposed to parent.

I start in the middle.

It works because life is not linear. As much as I want to place it between bookends, it’s messy and confusing, absurd and irrational. It lacks a beginning and an end, a straightforward path with an explanation. It’s full of questions with few answers, which is why the quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke is one of my favorites: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”

Originally published on “Sanity Break” at Everyday Health.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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3 Responses
  1. Sean

    Good words! Thanks for the practicality of your wisdom. After I read your work I always feel more confident that I can get through the day. Keep it up!

  2. Peg

    This post reminds me of when I use Recovery International and Dr. Low’s tools for spotting what is going on in my mind and then applying the tools to process it objectively and move my muscles when needed. Some are giving Recovery the credit for being the first cognitive behavior therapy method, btw. It isn’t easy when our emotional side overrides using our brains, but that’s where reading the examples on the Recovery forum are helpful to me. Cheaper than therapy sessions sometimes, too.

  3. Henry Rosaly Fairhope al

    Theresee, thank you for your book . It has kept me sane My wife left me after 49 years of marriage , she says im abusive ?(im not) i don’t have space for you to know the whole story ‘im just waiting for her to come home’ shes living with my daughter . I thank you ,and i thankgod for helping you write this book .and all the angels the stood by you