Ideas are easy. We have them all day long and sometimes, they’re really good (or at least, we’d like to think they are). Everyone daydreams about putting together a particular project whether it be a novel, a song, a piece of art or even a business venture. The steps to get from A to B to Complete are where we tend to stumble.
There are any number of excuses why we don’t start a project (let alone finish it). Everything from not having enough time to feeling instantly overwhelmed by the scope of vision can contribute to a premature failure. The author Steven Pressfield calls this Resistance and it can take many forms. Anything from procrastination to fear of failure or even sensitivity to criticism can hold us back from reaching a goal.
There are a couple of books that I’ll recommend at the end of this post but before we get there, I want to talk about what it takes to finish whatever it is you want to do. The first step is to get started. Yes, that may sound very obvious but you’d be surprised at how often this is the number one obstacle to your vision seeing the light of day. People are afraid of that empty page. It represents commitment and a damn big one too. Short stories, novellas and novels aren’t going to write themselves.
Once you’ve jotted down that opening sentence, you’ve embarked on a path.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan. Putting together an outline is important. If you’re creating something that requires research, by all means, do some but remember that even these things can become resistance. You can fall into a trap of ‘I don’t have enough information about the ink used by Egyptians for hieroglyphics’. Details are very important but not at the expense of you never getting your project going. Remember, you can always add on to your project later but not if it hasn’t even begun.
Don’t be intimidated by the blank page. Give it a start. Write a couple paragraphs. Get your feet wet. Meet your characters and find out who they are. Those steps will really get you moving and the momentum will surprise you. However, there are dozens of pitfalls standing between you and the epilogue of your work. Self discipline is an enemy of resistance and it will batter at the walls like barbarians sieging the gates of Rome.
Let’s say you’re three chapters into your ten chapter novella. It’s a great idea and you love it like one of your own children. You couldn’t even imagine giving up on it let alone not seeing it blossom to its full potential. That’s what happens when we really create and shove a great deal of ourselves into our art.
But that’s when we’re most vulnerable to the distraction of resistance.
You’re on the way to the grocery store and you get an idea. Maybe it’s even a BETTER idea than what you’re working on. It could be the best idea you’ve ever had. More marketable, more now, more exciting…the temptation to dive in might be overwhelming. That initial surge of excitement may even feel like inspiration and everyone wants to ride that wave to see where it goes.
I’m going to tell you right now that inspiration like that is fleeting and just as soon as you give up on the last project, you’ll find yourself going down the same road with this one. The honeymoon period ends and now you’re left with the raw truth of what you’re doing. It’s a project, maybe great, maybe not but nevertheless, it’s the one you began. All that hyperbole before loses some meaning now and your mind wanders for the next fix of excitement.
The key to finishing a project is to recognize that rush and put it aside. Keep a journal and write down all your fantastic ideas. There will come a time when you don’t have any and you’ll be incredibly happy to look back at what you’ve thought of in the past. This could very well be the most important thing you do for your projects. They won’t be forgotten, simply put aside for later. You’re not out to create one thing, right? You want to repeat the process so remember that you should always finish one thing before starting the next, no matter how tempting.
Multitasking is a fairly advanced technique when it comes to creating, one that you should not endeavor until you’ve got some projects under your belt. The last thing you want is to feel overwhelmed and give up simply because you have no idea how to get out of the mire you’ve dug yourself into.
If you are truly serious about getting work done and finishing projects solely on your own recognizance (as in no one’s going to order you to finish that book, play, CD, business venture), then you should seriously consider reading the books I’m listing out below. These have nothing to do with technique or style. Those we’ll touch on another time. These are inspirational and, in some cases, obvious advice on what you should be doing to ensure you get to the end of a project.
I have read them all and I can attest that they have helped me in every aspect of my life. I believe strongly in the concepts of the Muse and resistance. It might sound a little touchy feely but just give it a try. They’re not terribly long and you should be able to bust them out very quickly.
They could change your creative life!
The War of Art: The first step on your path to defeating resistance and understanding how to break down the barriers that you inadvertently build to defeat yourself.
Do the Work: This one really focuses on getting through the project and avoiding distraction.
Turning Pro: Go from amateur tinkering to professional practices, I sincerely suggest this book once you’ve finished the other two.
Steven Pressfield is the author of the Gates of Fire, The Legend of Bagger Vance and a variety of other historical novels. He's an inspirational author and the type of person that should show us all that determination and hard work still can help you achieve a dream. I encourage you to check out all his work but for the purposes of this article, the above three would be a fantastic start.
The above links all go to Amazon.com just for convenience. Thanks for reading!