Updated October 02, 2018
Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

I’ve grown out a pixie cut three times in my life, if you count the time my mom cut all my hair off in the first grade after a year of post-bath-time fighting because I never let her comb the tangles out.

I kept my hair long until I cut it all off again at age 20, of my own volition this time. After growing it out the first time, I cut it all off again last fall and today it’s mostly grown out again. My hair right now, which bobs right above my shoulders, is the longest it’s been in four years.

I’d love to wax poetic about what all my different looks represent, and how each haircut I’ve received symbolizes some meaningful experience in my life. It would be total BS, though. I just like to switch up my hair a lot. A pixie cut seemed fun. (And it was!)

The first time I grew my hair out, it did not go according to plan. My hair looked pretty awful, which is most of the reason for pixie cut round two. When growing it out the second time around, I’d gotten a bit wiser to the game and handled the whole situation with a bit more finesse, or at least I like to think so.

Now I’m here to walk you through the long and difficult—but not impossible—journey of growing out your pixie cut. We can hold hands if you want. Just for a second. Just to see how it feels.

Get regular trims.

I know, I know, I know—you’ve heard this a thousand times, but it bears repeating for good reason. Keeping your hair trimmed and neat, especially the back of your head (which will veer into mullet territory faster than you can say “Achy Breaky Heart”), is the only way to keep it looking nice and, more importantly, intentional.

Having a pixie cut, in general, is relatively low-maintenance, as far as day-to-day styling. However, anyone who has had a pixie cut knows that it’s a great way to find out exactly how fast your hair really does grow. It’s also fun to learn about which sections of your head grow fastest. The hair in the back of my head tends to grow faster because it’s less damaged than the front pieces and also because I spend a lot of time with my head leaned all the way back, while I stare wistfully at the sky and hum Dixie Chicks songs.

Grow your hair in sections.

It’s important to keep the hairs in the back of your head trimmed while you let the hair on top and in front grow out, You want to aim for that look that’s somewhere between a shaggy pixie and a bowl cut.

If you let the layers on top (as well as your bangs in the front) grow out while keeping the back in check, this will make your hair easier to style as it transitions from one phase to the next.

When growing out a pixie, you will have bangs for a minute. That’s just a fact of life. You don’t have to style them as bangs if you don’t want to. I like to keep mine messy and piece-y. Achieve this by living your life as a generally messy and piece-y human.

Embrace the shag.

That in-between stage is the most difficult to style, by far. Once it’s grown out into even the shortest of bobs, it will be easier, but until then, it is a challenge.

For me, tackling the awkward shag was simply a question of confidence. (Sage advice for tackling all sorts of shags. Picture me winking as I tell you this.)

Volume will help with confidence and styling. I often used a blow-dryer and some hairspray to keep the hair on top of my head froofed up just a bit, and to keep it from looking too stringy or flat. You want to look like the chic, androgynous, carefree boy you might have had a crush on in middle school. Think ’90s Leo.

Learn some styling tricks.

While you’re floating freely through the in-between sea, experiment with parting your hair differently and wearing your bangs in weird ways. It’s important that you keep your hair interesting, so that you don’t get bored or sick of it and chop it all of again, letting your hard work and patience go to waste.

As far as styling, I have a few tricks up my billowing sleeves. (I’m wearing a wizard’s robe as I write this, obviously.)

A lot of the “hairstyles” I wore while growing my hair out were just strategically placed bobby pins. You can take various sections, starting from the front of your head and twist them towards the back of your head then pin them down. Do this until you’ve created some semblance of an updo. It helps to have some volume on top, and maybe leave a few wispy pieces down by your ears.

Also, clearly, headbands are a great idea. You can pull tricks with a headband one of two ways.

The first way is to give your hair quite a bit of volume and then push it back with a headband. I suggest curling it, since curls will make hair seem shorter and less awkward, and curls will also make any uneven lengths less obvious if you’re between cuts. For most “formal” events I attended while my hair was growing out, this is how I styled it.

For another look, you can wear a headband that wraps around and tuck the pieces in the back under the bottom of the headband. It’s tricky and might require some pins, but it will look cute like a curled-under little bob.

Give it some texture.

Like I said earlier, curls will help hide any weird cowlicks or uneven lengths. Natural curls, in general, are sometimes difficult to maintain or maneuver. When growing out my hair, I used my curling iron a lot to make my curls bend under in ways that were more flattering and also to make my hair a bit more springy.

Curling short hair is sort of difficult, because there isn’t a whole lot to grab onto as far as length. My suggestion is to get a teeny curling iron. I used a ¼-inch curling iron and a ½-inch curling iron. Using two curling irons will give more realistic curls, as most people don’t have completely uniformly sized curls.

Curling your hair is also a great way to hide the weird way your mullet will curl up after being pushed against your scarf or collar all day.

Begin styling it as a bob as soon as you can.

As soon as the pieces in the front and on the side are at about jaw-length, begin styling your hair as you would a very short bob. Last spring, I had my stylist cut my hair with a slightly inverted cut, with the back being just a bit shorter than the front. I also added some layers in the back to keep it from resting too flatly against my skull.

That was the basic shape of the cut I continued growing and trimming for about six months.

With this style, the hair on the back of neck wasn’t much longer it was when I had a pixie. My entire neck was still exposed. But the way the rest of the hair was grown out made this look like a short bob as opposed to a long pixie.

If all else fails, just wear a hat…or a wig.

I’m not here to pretend like every day is a good hair day for me. I mean, y’all do not want to see the selfies I snapchat with the hashtag #iwokeuplikethis. Some days, I just throw on some lipstick and hope for the best.

On those days, I’ve been known to rep a hat. In my younger and less intelligent days, I thought, “Hats just don’t work on my head.” I was a silly young lass, indeed.

There are good hats for everyone, and I have some I really love. I personally prefer hats with a wider brim.

Wigs can be really fun, too. You could go out and spend a couple hundred dollars on a quality wig that looks real and just wear that until your actual hair grows out. Since I’m usually broke and afraid to commit, I like to wear inexpensive, crazy-color wigs from time to time. If I’m not going to spend a lot of money on it, I don’t want to even try and pretend it could be real, you know?

Be patient, and be good to your hair.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the adage “Nothing good comes easy or quick,” it rings true for hair growth. I’ve basically been “growing out” my hair for about a year and a half.

My hair grows relatively slowly, but I also kept up trims regularly throughout the whole process so as to keep my hair in good shape. Whether you’ve got a pixie or a bob, short hair means the ends of your hair are close to your face, and if they’re split, they’re gonna be noticeable.

Now, a disclaimer: I have very tough, resilient hair. Since August 2012, I’ve dyed my hair dozens of times, and bleached it several times. I’ve used excessive heat styling. My hair’s still in good shape. My hair and I are similar in that way–we can handle some serious crap, and we’ve both been through a lot.

That said, I also try to take good care of my hair when I can. I know what’s best for my hair, and I stick to it. For me, this means washing it only once or twice every five to seven days, using moisturizing shampoos and conditioners, and eating a high-protein diet. There’s also quite a bit of genetics working in my favor.

Treat your hair nicely while you grow it out. Use deep-conditioning treatments and hair masks regularly, and try to tread lightly as far as things you know will damage your hair. Even though my hair is still in good shape, I probably could have grown it out a bit faster had I laid off the bleach/heat

That said, I did love my pixie cut and going through old photos for this article made me miss it. I sure am tempted to cut it all off again…

This article originally appeared on xoJane.