For me the really awkward stage was from around ear length until probably around shoulder length. I remedied it by twisting strands from the hairline and pinning them with cute clips on top of my head, pulling back the top-side pieces and clipping those back, lace/french/dutch braids along the hairline, french/dutch braids in the middle section (when you look at it from the side) to keep the bulk out of my face, and eventually by doing half-ups.
Clipping the front pieces and do something resembling one or two ponytails helped too.
The first real updo I was able to do with sticks was a french twist. I think I was able to do that when I was just a little past shoulder length. My first bun was a LWB when I was nearly at APL and I could only do it on wet hair if I was really careful at how and where I positioned and secured it and it was pretty tight.
Wearing it down still isn't entirely comfortable at BSL. It still keeps falling in my face and in other stuff.
When I started growing my hair in the summer of 2007, most of my hair was under 1" and the longest parts were about 1". It took me at least three years to get to shoulder but I took it slow and trimmed the mullets of doom along the way. I wanted the bulk of my hair to reach shoulder at the same time.