Starting comes from taking small energetic steps, daily. One step, then another step, and then another step.
Starting can be simple but many of us seek to pack so much before taking the first step on the creative road.
We think we have to cram education, a full resume of achievements, workshops, and other credentials into a suitcase.
Next comes the inner stuff. We know on the creative road we will bump into all manner of inner chatter coming from the internalization of the big influences in our lives. Such as what our parents, siblings, and grade school friends thought about creativity, our chances of getting anything done, and other judgments we soaked up from them.
We think if we just get all of those inner people lined up, we can then head out on the creative road. This is putting our creative journey on hold until we can pack “permission slips” from these inner critics. Good luck. We will be waiting decades to get those inner permission slips.
Our packing is way out of control. How many trunks are we going to need?
Keep in mind, as we are packing and packing, more and more people are walking past us with small, simple bags thrown over their shoulders. There not waiting to get everything together. These people are getting way down the road, out of our sight and living an adventure, experiencing a life we know nothing about. Yet, we continue our packing.
No one who has ever walked the creative road had everything he/she needed before taking the first steps.
No one has had all the character traits, abilities, accomplishments, education, or native interests before starting down the creative road. The creative road is way too complex. We don’t know of every twist and turn and need before we get out there and travel.
Something is always missing.
Some things can’t be packed because they are only developed travelling ON the road, not in our heads, thinking about travel.
We can’t pack what we don’t know to pack. Most of us have projects and project areas where we have never worked before so how can we know what to pack?
1. Consider your risk
Of course, we need to be cautious with some journeys, such as those requiring a sharp departure. For instance, quitting a job and jumping into something else. That takes more preparation, but the majority of people visiting The Stuck Creative are looking at low risk activities and projects. Starting a blog post, a painting, a first screenplay, first song, etc. Low risks activities require very, very little packing.
- Stop thinking so much
Over-thinking is sure sign of not thinking well. It is not proportional to the job at hand. It’s a sign of fear, not prudent smarts. Don’t trust over-thinking so much.
- Put emphasis on getting on the road and finding any means: tiny, semi-tiny, small, or medium to get you out there a.s.a.p.
looking around for opportunities to do tasks that are already out on the road so you have to go out there and work on them. Examples: workplace projects; volunteer work; offering your skills to friends; competitions…anything that can challenge you to do work in your field sooner than you might otherwise do things, ending the cycle of holding back and packing, packing and holding back.
Don’t delay. Simply start, start simply.
I haven’t been dead…just learning video.
Let my return be announced with this very first video of the series on Getting Started on the Creative Road.
Obviously, I have nothing against people getting opportunities. However, let me caution you about a type of opportunity that you might want to pass up. There is a type of opportunity that we have to carefully consider and approach. It is an opportunity that is way beyond our current skill level and very unlike anything we have done before. We all can stretch some to press beyond our limits but none of us can jump the Grand Canyon.
How It Unfolds
A great opportunity comes up. This comes because we have made an idea pitch or because someone knows we work within particular creative field. It is a project that is so great we can’t pass it up. We are so flattered, so excited. A breakthrough is right around the corner if we can deliver. At last, we are getting the recognition we have deserved.
But we have to slow down and look clearly and honestly if this project is right for us. I know, I know, this sounds like such heresy. It is so hard to get people’s attention or get them to say “yes”, who wants to slow down? Speed up, speed up! our head and heart screams.
It is so tempting, but listen to me, someone who has been in this situation more than once, an opportunity can turn into a curse.
How to Turn a Great Opportunity Into a Curse in 13 Steps
Step 1: Accept the offer.
Step 2: Be overjoyed that you got “the nod”
Step 3: Party for a few days or week(s)
Step 4: Start working on the project you promised to deliver by going out and getting the materials you need
Step 5: Start working.
Step 6: Enjoy the first few days of the project as you explore your bright-new materials, ponder the project, and continue to bask in the glow of opportunity seized.
Step 7: Do o.k. for a few days but….get “distracted”, “called away,” or go in search of “inspiration.” Progress stops.
Step 8: Discover that you like the idea of the project more than the idea of working on the project.
Step 9: Intend to get back to your project of promise but…this work, hurts. It is slow, taxing, and challenging. Ouch.
After a few weeks have gone by:
Step 10: Avoid the friends and family members who celebrated with you in step 3. Fear they will ask: “How is that project of yours going?” Ugh.
Step 11: Avoid even thinking about the project. Ugh.
Step 12: Ask yourself: “What’s wrong with me? How did I let this opportunity slip away? I blew it! Idiot!” Ugh.
Step 13: Repeat Steps 10 to 12 about 10,000 times, especially when already feeling down or filled with doubt. Cringe.
A Look at the Curse
What went wrong? We had a great idea, someone else agrees with us, and we have been given an opportunity. What stalls us out?
It starts with a very rational, but unconscious realization that we have never done a project of this size or complexity before. We get push back from within that says something like:
-“Are you crazy, you have never done this before?”
– “This is going to be very, very, very hard.”
– “Do you really want to give up x,y,and z to do this?”
– “Do you know how to start?”
– “Do you see the end?”
– “This going to be painful, do you know how to handle this pain of hard work?”
– “Where are you getting your confidence from?”
These statements rattle around and we can hear them whispering or shouting at us. Or, they can run silent. In all cases, it is all too easy to avoid the project, not really commit to the job, and to stick with our old, usual ways. Unless we are prepared through a history of regular work in our creative field, these voices and our ways of avoidance will overwhelm us and drive us to inaction.
It is too much. We are unpracticed in many of the technical skills but also in the skills of creative work. We are weak. Using an analogy, we are being asked to run a marathon. We may love to run but we have never gone over a 3.2 miles in a single run! Can we fake our way through a 26+ mile run without prep, without knowledge?
How to Turn an Opportunity into a Blessing in 3 Steps
We need to prepare to be ready for opportunities when they pop up and as we cultivate them:
- Start a daily routine of working a bit each and every day, NOW! Fifteen to thirty, well used minutes per day will be make you stronger and stronger with each passing week. Working muscles of body and mind will be built.
- Start learning the methods of getting things done. This is different from studying creative technique. It is an art and science unto itself. Read, go to workshops, and ask people in your creative field: “How do you get things done and not stall out?”
- Right-size your opportunities. Don’t accept projects (be honest here) that are way out of your reach. Be reasonable. Do take projects that require a decent stretch to a new personal best.
- Get support to get it done. Find an accountability partner, support group, mentor, etc. to keep you moving and believing in yourself and your project.
Curse be gone!
Limitless is a perfect expression of our base fantasy: Without work we can achieve great things; without work, our trapped genius can be realized and released; without work, we can know and do everything and anything. Plus, the world knows how great we are.
Is there a word like porn for ideas that keep us dumb, lost, or chasing our tails? Please send so I can add it to this post to more accurately describe Limitless.
Plot summary (no spoiler): Bradley Cooper is a guy with a book contract but no ability to sit down and work. Nor does he have the wherewithal to clean his apartment or pay his bills. Sound familiar? A chance encounter with a drug dealer ex-brother-in-law gives him exactly what he needs for the remaining 90% of the movie: a pill that unlocks every block and barrier. Apparently, the more days you take it the greater genius you are.
O.k., Limitless is fun to watch, but does it provide the prescription we need to get started and keep moving with our projects. Bet none of our ex-brother-in-laws have such a pill. We need to look for creative healing to wellness somewhere else.
Ancient Secret Formula
Perhaps Limitless II (if that happens) could show a true prescription for creative productivity. Something that has been tested throughout time and around the word (only a few listed below):
- Develop a habit for consistent work (do this daily)
– Develop patience because getting good takes time, lots of time. Can’t rush this time. (do this daily)
– Envision where you want to be/do generally and envision specifically your project as it enfolds and becomes clearer to see/understand (do this daily)
– Plan your work but also trust the surprising directions you will be drawn to as you invest more of yourself into your project. Leave the door open. (do this daily)
– Consider your work as a journey with all sorts of landscapes; you will face ups, downs, quick sand, whirlpools, easy flatlands, etc. (do this daily)
Within procrastination research there is an awareness that we overestimate our future. We assume we will and can do something later because our future will have perfect or at least fine conditions for our creative work. But how can we be so sure?
-our health can change to the negative
-our home conditions can change to the negative
-our time availability can be less
-our life may end
-our fortunes may change to the negative
-our minds may change to the negative
We might not have the great tomorrow to do our work. That’s a chilling thought but…
Discipline, in the sense of having set boundaries in time, behavior, or quality is fine. It is the Yang of the tao of creative productivity. We need this to give us something to push against and to aim for. It gives a particular shape to something where indecision, lack of clarity, and sometimes chaos live.
Yin is the softer force. Softer force…hmm…that seems contradictory. It is but it makes sense and it is a reality.
Dedication is the attraction (as I define it, at least) that keeps us coming back. It is the glue that binds us to some finite collection of objects, places, people, process, and ideas. It is the great point of fascination, hope, and curiosity that captures our thoughts, dreams, and heart.
Dedication is hard to quantify, examine, or compare. It’s part of the world of wishes, desires, needs, and the province of the unconscious.
Dedication makes procrastination less powerful and far, far less relevant. Dedication increases resilience, that strange force that allows us to get up after “failure”, “hopelessness,” and “helplessness” and loss to stumble again into the studio, to the desk, the work bench, the easel, pen, to the business, and instrument when we aren’t sure what to do next. It is the place we had to be despite a 1000 reasons not to show up.
Dedication carries with it responsibility. A responsibility that at a minimum, demands that we must be jugglers. Juggling ideas, processes, an instrument of our creativity, understandings, and more.
Dedication is yin-like in that it signals our love for what we do, who we are, what we want to offer from our creativity.
If hard to quantify, examine, and compare dedication is all of that, perhaps other, hard to see and hard to trust yin soft/powerful forces have a chance, too. Optimism, trust in one’s ability, the future, self-worth, courage, and confidence begin this list.
Yin is darkness in its full range. In darkness is where much of our work is done. In our minds, invisible to everyone, and sometimes invisible to ourselves. Working quietly, frequently alone for long stretches. And our end products that sometime get to migrate the long shadows from completion to the light of public attention.
Getting to Dedication…how-to-do-it….comes in a later post.
Jerry Seinfeld gets credit for a simple tool. The story goes something like this: Jerry had reached a level of fame and a new comic went up to Jerry and asked him for any secrets Seinfeld knew for getting better as a comic. “Don’t break the chain,” he answered. The chain he was speaking of is a string of days in which he set aside time to write and practice material. A link of the chain was a check mark he placed on the days he worked on a calendar. His goal was to work in long blocks of unbroken check marks, a chain. Skip a day of practice, you break the chain.
This secret anyone can do with a paper calendar (free download), a desktop computer-based calendar (cc-chains download), or now, with numerous phone apps. Phone apps include: Don’t Break the Chain by Rogue41; Don’t Break the Chain by Matt Cowlin; and Seinfeld Calendar.
The Bizaro Jerry Refinement
The don’t break the chain idea is great approach. It is a simple way to accomplish a couple of things. First, it puts an emphasis on consistent effort. Consistent effort feeds our unconscious the stuff it needs to grow our skills and produce the psychological ties to what we do. Secondly, it keeps our work top-of-mind, another huge factor in keeping us focused on our project and on the creative work we love. Lastly, it gives us a sense of accomplishment for not only the one day but also for the larger period when we hold to our goals. Oh yeah, one more thing, it gets us to play a game, a competitive game, with ourselves. Can’t break the chain. Made it two weeks last time, this time I’m going to make it three weeks!
Let’s improve a great idea to an even better tool. Regular Jerry’s approach of focusing on our work days doesn’t tell us about the days we don’t work. A day not worked breaks the chain and is not desirable, but is that all we can learn from that day? Bizaro Jerry comes in now. As you might recall, the bizarro Jerry episode picked up the theme highlighted in DC comics where a super hero such as Superman, had to face his polar opposite who came from a polar opposite world. So let’s take the same theme and apply it to regular Jerry’s calendar.
Instead of marking down only the days we work, let’s mark down the day’s we don’t. A real adherence of the bizarro theme would have us really going out of our way not to work but I’m not going to be that loyal to the polar opposite thing. I just want us to put a lot of attention on days we don’t work. Why did we not work? I don’t mean this question to be something that leads to shame or frustration, but to simply logging a reason for each day we don’t work. We will always have things we must do or want to do instead of working. That’s fine but we need to have a clear view of what those reasons are.
Reasons will be a plenty. Many will be a reason that comes from within. Some of those will be clear but a lot will start to form around: “I just didn’t feel well”, “I just wanted to do other things,” “I don’t know why didn’t work but I just didn’t feel like it”, etc. Once a week or so, look at your log and see if there is a pattern. Are there regular external or internal distractions we can get rid of, avoid, or put off for a while? Which are hard reasons (visitors from out of time) versus soft reasons (I wasn’t drawn to my work that day)? Do we often not work without a reason not to work?
Bizarro Jerry’s calendar also makes it very clear that time flies when you are not working. It is easy to take some time off but usually we take off far more time than we intend or realize. A couple of days, unless we are tracking it, becomes a week and a half. A week becomes two and a half weeks. “A bit of a break” becomes three months. We are pretty terrible at telling time by days when we set our mind to “off”. Things we don’t think about slip away.
Bizarro Jerry keeps us from a fogged understanding of our non-work days.
Regular and Bizarro Jerry Combined
O.k., polar opposites would probably explode or something if they combined but we have to give it a try. Find a calendar, paper or electronic one, that allows for both recording working days and non-working days with a check mark or similar indicator and a log for days we don’t work. Make a bright red check mark to celebrate your working days. Ideally, find a gray ink to mark days not worked and write down whatever reason you had for not working that day. Simply capture the why and do be honest with your answers. Somewhere in that log will be information you can use to better understand yourself, your “process”, and how our days relate to our work.