How many people do you know who are passionate about a creative venture but never do anything about it? Every time you ask them about it, there is always a reason why they haven’t started.
One of the main reasons that people procrastinate on a project is because they don’t know all the details yet. They want to know all the answers and are worried about getting something wrong.
So they never get around to starting.
You are never going to know everything
How can you know all the answers? You can’t read the future. You can’t know what will be required in step 100 if you haven’t taken step 1. Even if you did have a plan to that level of detail unforeseen events are sure to derail it and force an adjustment.
Needing all the information and all the answers is just an excuse not to start because you are frightened.
My Gentle Warrior journey
Two years ago I started my Gentle Warrior blog. I liked the name and thought it summed up my spirit. When I asked around other people liked it too. However, some made the comment that it wasn’t directly linked to creativity which is what I write about.
Even though I understood their concerns I decided to go ahead with Gentle Warrior because it felt right to me. I figured I could change the name or approach at a later date if necessary but for the time being I was going to start writing. I have been writing consistently ever since.
For about the last year I haven’t been totally convinced about the name but in the absence of other bright ideas I just kept going. Earlier this year, when writing a manifesto about my creative approach I hit upon a new name – The Gentle Creative. It kept the spirit of Gentle Warrior but was more specific to creativity.
Even though I was excited about this new idea I haven’t had much time to work on the new website. While I am building it I keep writing as Gentle Warrior.
What is the lesson here?
I could never have started.
I could have been so worried that the name wasn’t right and not being sure how my writing might develop that I could have been paralysed.
Then I wouldn’t have had two years worth of blogs. The development in my own creative process that led to the new name would not have happened. And most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons that I have learned since starting Gentle Warrior.
If I had to sum up the most important thing that I have learned over the last two years it is that creativity has to be internally motivated and it has to be about the process itself not external validation. This has become fundamental to me personally and to how I teach other people about creativity.
If I hadn’t learned this the hard way through the practice of actually doing my writing then I would have missed out on this important lesson. And the people that read my blogs and come to my talks and sit and chat about creativity with me wouldn’t have benefitted from it either.
You don’t have to have all the answers for your creative project, just start
The best way to get through “analysis paralysis” is to keep the steps really small. For example, if you want to publish a book about creating natural baby food then you don’t need to know how the Amazon algorhythm works. That might be useful to know later on but right now you just need to focus on your writing.
Easy first steps might be creating an outline for the book. Or if that is too daunting then just list ten subjects that you want the book to contain. You could then write a paragraph on each of them over the next day or so.
This will get you started. Your efforts don’t have to be perfect. You will probably change your words a lot before a book ever gets published. You need to start getting something on the page.
Some creative projects are very daunting. Even though you have a flutter of excitement about the project, this can often be matched by a large dollop of fear. When I decided to resurrect a novel I had laid to rest for many years, despite my excitement, I was terrified at beginning the process. I didn’t know what changes I would have to make, I had no idea on which publishing options would be best and I didn’t even know whether I was capable of making it better.
In order to commence work on the project I had to take it in baby steps. That meant telling myself that all I have to do to start is print the old manuscript out. And the task before that was to go to the stationary shop and buy a new ream of paper. I definitely knew that these simple tasks had to happen. The ones further down the line I have no clue about. I took it one stage at a time. Print out the manuscript, read it, mark up some notes as I went along and then start acting on the notes.
Your work doesn’t have to be perfect
Your art work doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to get it right first time. This need for perfection and the dread of failing can stop you from getting started on a project. As artists we need to experiment. Some of what you do will work, other things won’t. You are likely to learn more from the latter than the former.
But this won’t happen if you don’t do anything to start with.
When I started working on that novel again I went through the same thing. What if I break it? What if I make it worse than the current draft? What if I can’t do it?
In order to coax myself to start I told myself and I would give myself six months to tinker with the draft and see what happened. Thinking of it as ‘tinkering’ took the pressure off. It became an experiment that I could have fun with rather than something heavy where I had to be super committed to the result.
This allowed me to start working on it. Six months later I was really pleased with what I had done. This would not have happened if I had not allowed myself the choice to mess it up or fail. And if I had screwed it up? So what? At least I would have given it a go and I would have definitely learned something.
Don’t worry about a problem you haven’t yet got
If you spend too much time worrying about a problem that you don’t actually have then it is going to be harder to be productive now.
Yes, you might have to decide whether to go for a 1000 or 5000 copies print run for your book. Yes, you might need to seek representation from an art gallery in the city. Yes, you might get the design for your new knitwear line wrong.
Yes, these might be problems in the future. But they are not problems now.
When and if they happen it might be a nice problem to have. How wonderful to know that you might need more than a 1000 copy print run. How wonderful to have reached a point with your art where you can affiliate with a swanky gallery. How wonderful to be in the position of designing a whole clothing line.
In the future these might be great problems to have. But you won’t reach that point if you do nothing now.
You don’t need all the answers now
You don’t need all the answers now. What you need to know will gradually be revealed to you as you make progress with your work.
It feels amazing to start something and be busy with it rather than standing on the sidelines waiting for the ‘right thing’ or amassing enough knowledge. You could wait forever doing this and you won’t have developed the skills and experience you need to capitalise on ‘the thing’ if it ever shows up.
The waiting is just an excuse because really you are terrified. It is ok to be terrified. This is normal for creative people.
However, the trick is to create anyway.
Now I’d love to hear from you
What stops you from creating? How do you get through it? I love to hear what you have to say. You never know, your comment might be the life-saver that someone else needs to read.
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I agree Cali, you can NEVER know everything so the best thing is just to start.
I know we both love Elizabeth Gilbert’s wisdom & for me her advice to be curious is really helpful. So ask what are you interested in & go & do it? Play with different ways of being creative & see what you enjoy.
Above all, have fun.
Hi Lesley. Yes thinking about it as curiosity can also take the pressure off. Basically, you need to play whatever games with yourself as necessary just to get on a do something!
You have really given me something to think about Cali. Thank you so much. Taking that first step is the hardest thing.
You did it, so we can do it too!!
Yes, you can do it too Jean. Keep that first step really small and easy. And just keep taking teeny-tiny baby steps. It is OK to be frightened or daunted. That’s normal. I often feel this way. And alongside that you can feel joy too. Lots of love xx
A really thought provoking post 🙂
For me I am fine with creative projects that are just for my own enjoyment.
But things that I know will go out into the wider world I struggle with!
Hi Andrea. It’s ok to struggle. It’s natural. Do it anyway xx