Learning to navigate the middle

I was a decent track and field athlete in high school. Not world class, but competitive within my environment. In particular, I was a sprinter. Put a finish line in front of me and I would often be the first to cross it. The promise of a finish off in the distance wasn’t good enough. I needed to see the finish line.

Craft and technique in sprinting is pretty minimal. If you’ve been gifted with the right fast twitch musculature, it mostly boils down to a fast start and a good kick to finish.

That strategy can take you surprisingly far off the track as well. How many all-nighters did you pull in college? String enough sprints back to back and you can get pretty far.

Eventually you reach challenges that won’t yield. You have to work out how to navigate the middle. Once it comes into sight, you can work out a way to get to the finish line. What keeps you moving when you’re somewhere in the middle of the desert or forest and there’s nothing to suggest which direction to move in, much less how far off the destination might lie?

The realm I am focused on right now is writing, although I think this problem crosses multiple forms of knowledge work. What does the middle look like here? As I think about the writing advice and lessons I’ve encountered over the years, this middle feels overlooked. Or, at least, not spoken about in a useful way. Lots of advice to be found about how to defeat the blank page. Anne Lamott is all in for shitty first drafts but says very little about what comes after draft number one. John McPhee acknowledges that Draft No. 4 exists. Maybe Steven Pressfield’s Resistance is his answer to navigating the middle.

Right now, I am at the point where I believe that there is leverage to be found in looking more carefully at the middle. I suspect I’ve been there before when the starting point is somewhere behind me and the finish is yet to come into sight. What lessons are waiting for me here?

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