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Navigating the Messy Middle
An author interview with Ann Douglas
I first met the wonderful Ann Douglas when she participated in our writing summit last spring. Her book, Navigating the Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women, is one of my favorites to help us understand this tricky (and yes messy) period of our lives. It’s a delightful and well-researched guide for approaching midlife with humor, optimism, and compassion.
I asked Ann to tell us a little bit more about the book, her writing, and her perspective on midlife.
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Tell us a little bit about your book and why you wrote it.
Ann: [It] is a book that pushes back against the idea that midlife is completely marvelous or totally miserable. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The messy middle! I wrote the book because I wanted to share what I had learned as a result of having in-depth conversations with over 100 midlife women—conversations in which we talked about our joys and challenges, worries and regrets, and our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, and our communities. I learned so much from these women and I wanted to share some of their wisdom with my readers.
What did you learn from the process of publishing the book?
I learned that there are huge advantages to working with a smaller, independent book publisher as opposed to one of the “big five” publishing conglomerates. My book publisher—Douglas & McIntyre (an award-winning indie publisher based in British Columbia, Canada)—invested a lot of time, effort, and money in my book, putting together a highly skilled editorial, production, and marketing team to support my book every single step of the way. This was my best book publishing experience ever—and I say that as someone who has written 26 books and worked with many big and small publishing companies over the years.
What advice would you give to midlife writers?
Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too late to pursue your dream of writing a book.
There’s a lot to be said about the brilliance of the midlife brain: about its ability to spot patterns and appreciate nuance and contradiction in a way that simply might not have been possible back when you were younger. That accumulated (and often hard-won) life experience adds richness and depth to your writing.
Bottom line? The world needs more books written by midlife writers.
What are three books, TV shows, or movies that were formative to you as a girl or a young woman?
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, because I was an “Ann” and I lived on a street called “Green Glade”—and because my grandmother bought me a copy of this book, introducing me to a wonderfully contrary heroine.
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume, because of the honest, confessional tone of the book. It made me feel like I was reading something I shouldn’t be reading.
“Mr. Dressup,” the children’s TV show, was all about storytelling and imagining new worlds into being. Note: A brand new documentary about Mr. Dressup was released on Prime Video this week. It’s definitely worth watching. It really captures the magic of this particular TV show for a couple of generations of Canadian children.
What’s the hardest part about being in your midlife years for you? What’s the best part?
The hardest part is dealing with a random health curveball, like a vertigo attack triggered by my Meniere’s disease. I’ve learned all kinds of strategies for reducing the likelihood of experiencing one, but I still have the odd day of feeling really queasy. It’s very frustrating and annoying.
The good news? What I’m dealing with these days is a vast improvement over what I was dealing with six years ago, back when I was first diagnosed. At that point, the attacks were really acute (like “sitting on a bathroom floor for a couple of hours, constantly throwing up” kind of acute). I’m grateful to be in a much better place right now.
The best part is the fact that I’ve arrived at a point in my life where I really know and trust myself and I no longer feel like I have anything left to prove to anyone else. That feels pretty great.
What are you working on now?
I am hard at work on my first novel. I’ve been working on it for almost two years. Last year, I participated in a Novel in a Year workshop offered by StoryStudio Chicago and this year I’m enrolled in GrubStreet’s Novel Generator program. I find it really helpful to be in community with other writers who are also trying to teach themselves how to write their own novel. It’s a tremendously challenging and also completely joyous process, so it can be really helpful to compare notes and offer encouragement to one another.
What do you wish more women understood about midlife?
I would encourage midlife women to ask themselves, “Is that actually true?” whenever they hear something really negative about being a midlife writer and/or midlife woman. Sure, there are challenges, but there’s also so much to savour and even celebrate. Don’t allow someone else’s clouds of doom to eclipse your joy.
For decades, Ann Douglas was Canada’s most trusted writer on all things parenting. She is the author of 26 non-fiction books and the creator of the internationally bestselling The Mother of All® parenting books series, which has sold over half a million copies to date. Now she’s turning her attention to the glorious messiness that is midlife. She is a passionate and inspiring speaker who delivers keynote addresses and leads small-group workshops at conferences and online events. Ann and her husband Neil live in rural Ontario. You can buy Navigating the Messy Middle here at Amazon and here from Bookshop.