Have you ever started a project and petered out in the middle?
I have. Hundreds of times, maybe thousands.
No one has unlimited energy and enthusiasm. As creative people, we do much better if we treat enthusiasm as a limited resource. We can build it up with use, but it’s still finite.
Here are seven hints to help you use your precious resources well and funnel all that energy where you want it – into your project. This will work for any kind of project but I have one bonus hint especially for writers.
Plan your strategy
If you are an artist, use a concept sketch. If you’re a writer, use an outline. There’s a moment in every project when your idea sits shining, fully formed in your head. Record as much information as you can, while you can. Capture as much of that feeling as possible.
Break up the task
While you are planning, divide the job into pieces. Roughly decide what you are going to do when. Be specific, so if you have to leave the project you can come back to it easily and know exactly where you are. This is great for working opportunistically, especially if you don’t have the luxury of a set working time.
Find the time – or make it
It often seems like we don’t have any time to work, especially distraction free time. However, it’s vital. You might have to tell the kids to go play, feed the cat so she doesn’t pester you, etc. Self discipline is helpful here. Surfing the web when you are supposed to be writing really makes a novel take longer to write, just ask me.
However, even well spent half hour, can be really productive. If you can’t set time aside, work when you can – twenty minutes during a child’s nap, fifteen while the dog is running at the park, an idea jotted down on a notebook while waiting in line at the bank, etc. Get up a little earlier if you have to. Small efforts over time add up. I wrote a novel, at work, between calls.
Treat your creativity and enthusiasm like a finite resource
I mentioned this already but it bears repeating. Don’t pour your enthusiasm into too many projects at once. Focus on a couple of things at a time. This includes things like gaming, social media and work, so balance carefully. If I want to really focus on my next novel, for instance, I’ll cut back on blogging and gaming. That way those mental resources aren’t under so much strain.
This might seem to fly in the face of other advice you’ve read. Ideas are great, vital really, but don’t keep generating them endlessly. If you do, you can feel like you are accomplishing a lot. “Look at all these lists I made,” you may say to yourself. “I’m really making progress.” But, and this is a big “but,” you need to follow through with one of them eventually. Even the best idea means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING unless you follow through.
Don’t talk about your work!
Mention it once in a while if you need, but don’t get into in depth discussions. I’ve found that the more I talk about my latest project, I use up the energy I have to finish it. Everything I have goes into talking about the project so I don’t actually work as much on it. I get tired of the subject faster, I lose enthusiasm. If I stay quiet about it, all that desire to share my project and what’s going on with it gets channeled into the project itself. I get done faster.
Keep going – no matter what
Even when you aren’t feeling creative, don’t quit. If you are writing a novel, try to write at least a few sentences. It may turn into more, it may not, but at least you did something. If you are fixing a car, try to turn at least one bolt. You’ll probably end up doing more. In the meantime, you’ll be developing a good habit. Persistence is more important than talent, every time.
Bonus tips for authors:
Write without editing. Follow your outline, but don’t stop to look at it, just keep going. When I start editing my work before I’ve finis, I end up with far fewer pages than if I didn’t edit. I wasn’t ever able to finish even one novel till I stopped doing that. If you find something that’s a real glaring error, highlight that part of the text or write yourself a note, but MOVE ON. This will keep your momentum up, and then you don’t end up having only a few well polished paragraphs. This helps your “flow” and helps you finish the book.
Wait before you edit. When you’ve finished your project, wait at least a few days before you start editing. Distance is important because otherwise you will miss mistakes. It also helps to look at your project differently. So if you wrote it online, print it out then go after it with a pen. Read it out loud. I catch more mistakes when I do that! Just find some way that your brain won’t be so used to looking at the same words. And don’t forget to refer back to your notes and your outline.
(This article first appeared in another form on Bayart.org, however I reworked it and added new material since then. So if you’ve read it before, there’s more to find!)