When I read Rachel Mankowitz’s blog post about struggling to write music for some lyrics she’d heard, I could relate. How often have I had a spark of inspiration, a desire to do something, but never managed to follow through? Even when it’s something I really care about, resistance to working on the project is always there. In fact, the more I care, the harder it is to start. Why is that?
Because fear is paralyzing, and we’re all afraid of goofing up. The more we care about the project, the bigger our fear of failure. We want to get it right, do our creative vision justice. But there’s a lot of muddling about between the moment of inspiration and the thing we’ve envisioned. It’s uncomfortable work, and even harder to do if we are haunted by the fear of screwing it up.
So how do we get things made? By using every trick in the book. Here are five things that work for me.
Give yourself permission to suck. Write a shitty draft (as Anne Lamott suggests in Bird by Bird), draw a wonky picture, stitch a lop-sided flower. Allow yourself to just start making without worrying about the quality of what you make. Some things you can fix or improve after you have started. Others will be good practice, helping you to develop the skills you need to make what you imagine.
Try more than one approach. Writing a scene for a novel? Write it from the point of view of different characters and see which version you like best. Painting a picture? Sketch your subject from many angles to discover the one that really speaks to you. Be willing to experiment and test out options in order to find your way to success.
Work even though you aren’t feeling inspired. If I waited until I felt like writing, I’d write once a year. But if I sit down regularly and give my novel some attention, not only do I move it forward, I often come away feeling excited. Inspiration can come from the work, but that means working even when we don’t feel like it.
Forget about your audience. Fear of failure is often rooted in thoughts of what other people are going to think. But if we are in the middle of the project, there’s no way to know how people will react, because it’s not finished yet. We have to get to the end to discover what we actually have, and even then, we do ourselves a favor if we focus on making something we really love. If it makes us happy, it will probably please others as well.
Forget about doing it “the right way.” Despite arguments to the contrary, there are lots of way to do things, especially when we are creating. There is only one right way: the way that works for you. Teachers share what works for them, and it’s worth trying their advice. But be prepared to drop their method if it isn’t working. Only you can know the right way to your goal, and you may only realize what it is after you’ve already stumbled over the finish line.
All of these boil down to one main idea: focus on the process, not the product. Forget about the future. Approach your project with a playful and curious attitude. Let yourself get lost in what you are doing, and stop worrying about the final result. That way, not a moment of your time will be wasted. It will be easier to start, and you will have enjoyed yourself no matter how things turn out.
Do you have a hard time starting creative projects? What tricks do you use to get going?