It’s easy to say just do it. Just get started. The difference between doing it and not doing it is starting.
But creatives are complicated humans so sometimes the simple answer isn’t quite enough.
I’m solution based, so here are 10 things you can do to get started starting. Including shifting your perspective, which is were the true beginning really happens.
1. ACCEPT THE FEAR
One of the things that makes starting hard is fear. We imagine that in some future we will be able to start without it. Either we will wait and the fear will magically go away. Or if that doesn’t work we can address the fear, and get unafraid.
The trick is to have have the fear and start anyway. Start while you are afraid. Whatever the fear is, it doesn’t really matter. You can proceed with the fear.
And sure, if you want, you certainly can spend some time understanding your fear and using reason, logic and evidence to dissuade yourself. Or you can just start anyway.
If you have a true desire to understand your fear first, do you know what you are afraid of? It might be that the thing will suck, or it’s the wrong thing, or you’re not good enough. It might be that you’re not ready. Or it’s too late.
Let me talk you off the ledge of a few of the most common fears.
- It’s too late. Nope. It’s never too late to be what you might have been. Unless what you might have been is an ingenue.
- It might suck. Yep. That’s why they call it a first draft. Just get the thing down on paper. And every equivalent of that. Whatever your medium, just make a draft. A first draft. The whole point of a first draft is to ave something you can print out and make a coffee ring on. Oh you’re afraid to start the re-write not the first draft. Same principle. Just keep working at it until it doesn’t suck. And if it has suckage built into it, start again on something else, having learned the lessons of the thing that sucked.
- You’re not good enough. Maybe not. Maybe you will have to ask for help. Maybe you won’t ever get good enough till you do this thing. We get better by doing the thing. Maybe you will never get good at this thing. But doing this thing will reveal the thing you will be great at. Creativity is not linear. You don’t start and then walk a clear straight line to completion.
- This thing won’t be financially successful. Oops. It might not. But it might. But it might not. Is it the thing you want to do? Chances are wanting to do it will give you the energy to do all the extra work to make it financially successful. Or maybe you need to do it to get to the thing that is financially successful. One thing is for sure, doing nothing is definitely not going to help you get financially successful. Which doesn’t mean don’t also have a meditation practice. Meditation practices will help you with all these fears, and isn’t doing nothing.
So. Accept the fear. And start anyway.
2. DON’T DIVE IF YOU’RE A WADER
One of the biggest mistakes people make about beginning is thinking they need to dive in. Think of swimming pool. There are two ways in. Diving and wading. Sure the divers make a splash. But they aren’t necessarily better swimmers. Getting in inch by inch is perfectly fine.
Here are some ways you can wade into your project.
- Do it for ten minutes a day for 6 days. On the 7th day assess that first hour. Then move to an hour a day.
- Talk to a handful of trusted friends about it. Be careful not to talk to that one friend who always makes you feel badly about what you are doing.
- Scribble notes on a pad instead of opening a file on your computer.
- Send yourself texts about it
- On stage say hello to the audience and do an easy icebreaker
Beginning isn’t instantaneous. It’s a process.
3. LOVE THE QUESTIONS
Asking questions is actually a way of wading into a project.
We somehow think we are meant to have all the answers at the beginning. That’s because everything great that we love seems so intentional. Like those creators had all the answers. But they didn’t. They had the intentions. And they knew what questions to ask.
Can you at least begin to ask the questions. What is the story you really want to tell? What’s funny about that? How can you edit 10 minute out of your perfect thing? How can you find the financing for your project? Where does the story happen that helps illuminate it? What is your real message?
Ask the questions. Love the questions. The answers will come. Answers. Not answer. Answers are many. And they proliferate when the questions are heartfelt and present.
4. CLEAN UP
When in doubt clean. Clean your house, you car. Straighten up your desk or your desktop. Or weed the garden. Get things in order.
Throw stuff away. Make room for the new project. The new project may be shy about coming in to where there is no space for it. And that goes for your head too. Watch your thoughts. Clean them up. Don’t indulge in negative thinking about starting. This is different than acknowledging you are afraid. This means when you har yourself say ‘I can’t’ acknowledge that as a negative thought. And if you can’t quite get to ‘I can’ try ‘maybe I can’.
You know what they say, messy bed messy head. But it goes the other way to. Messy head messy bed. Vcious cycle. So just try straightening up the house as you sift through the project, getting ready to start. Without bating yourself up for procrastinating. It’s pre-game. Foreplay.
Then go make some coffee. Clean it up. And start.
Sometimes you can’t convince yourself you know enough to start. About the topic. The craft. The logistics. The whatever. So ok sure. Do some research.
What is research though. Re. Search. Have you done the search first? Have you done the inner search. Don’t let the research stand in the way of the search.
Research is a good way to warm up. Warming up is a good way to wade in. Wade in with research and before you know it you started.
6. START WHERE YOU ARE
One of my yoga teachers always used to say start where you are.
Meaning this: Don’t try to be thinner, or more flexible or stronger or more evolved before you start the practice designed to help you connect to your universal self but from which you want all the things you think you need to be before you start the practice.
Don’t wait to write till you are a better writer. Start where you are.
Don’t wait to be a comedian till you are funnier. Start where you are.
Don’t wait to start directing till you know how to direct. Start where you are.
Let the thing that you are be the thing that you are.
Start with all your uncertainty, anger, fear, resentment. With your overwhelming eagerness. With your baggage and your ignorance.
Start where you are. It’s a journey. And you have to begin the journey here. And why not now? Start where you are. Know where you are. Where are you? Start there.
7. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
I’ve had lots of students come to me who seem to be waiting for permission.
Permission to be funny. Permission to be great. Permission to suck. Permission to be themselves. Permission to change. Permission to proceed without 100% certainty. Permission to be a girl in a boy’s field. Permission to be a sensitive boy. Permission to be trans in creative transition.
Give yourself permission. And if you need permission from someone else, permission granted! Venmo me $88 and what you need permission for and I’ll send you permission slip. JK
8. SET A TIMER
Sometimes when I’m having trouble focusing I set a timer for one hour. It’s enough time to really get something done. But also I somehow think it’s only an hour. I can just work for an hour. I can set aside my doubts and all the surrounding fears. For an hour.
I first heard of this trick from Don Roos who wrote “The Opposite of Sex” and “Happy Endings” among other things. He makes himself stop after one hour. No matter if he is in the middle of a sentence. I’m not that strict. And I don’t always se the clock. Some days I have no time for even an hour and some days I get on a roll and can write all day. But on the days when I have time and I cannot focus I set the timer. And if you are having trouble starting then the timer can work too. Just set it for an hour. Or even thirty minutes. Then sit down and work till the bell rings. And guess what? When it does? You’ve started.
9. ACCEPT THAT STARTING IS A PROCESS
Races start with on your mark, get set, go. So I mean does it begin with on your mark, or go?
And birth? Does it start with insemination, with labor, with the first baby’s cry?
Does a project start when you begin to think about it, to work on it in your end, to bring it out of yourself into th world.
It’s a process. Maybe it started by reading this post. Hello.
10. DO A GEOGRAPHIC
In recovery there is a phrase, doing a geographic. It means instead of changing yourself, you just move. And you know, wherever you go there you are. I actually have a history with that. And I’m sensitive to it.
But sometimes with work a geographic is ok. You might need to get yourself to a coffee shop. I have one particular Starbucks that’s a little bit out of my way, but which I used to write my LA Weekly cover story. I feel exposed enough that I don’t want to be scrolling when I should be working. There’s enough noise to make me need to try to focus. I’m enough of an exhibitionist to feel on display and like people are watching me work. Also I feel obliged to buy coffee and pay for my time and I don’t want to buy a second round so I work hard and fast.
It can even help me to change locations at home. Move from the desk to the chair. Work in bed.
I often sleep at my boyfriend’s house and will do some of my more boring work there and then land back at my desk and launch into other work.
I have friends who have checked themselves into cheap hotels in order to start. And friends who rent office space. Sometimes you need to get out of your own space with everything that is calling to you to do. All the projects. And sometimes the comfort of home is just what you need. Stay flexible. Get started.