10 Simple Ways To Start The Thing You’ve Struggled To Start
It’s easy to say just do it.
Just start creating the things you want to create.
But creatives are complicated humans, and sometimes the easy answer isn’t quite enough to get you started starting.
If you’re having a hard time getting going, here are 10 ways to stop waiting and start making.
1. Accept The Fear
Starting is hard because of fear.
We imagine that in some future we’ll be able to start without it — that if we wait long enough the fear will magically go away or we’ll eventually be ready to face it.
The trick is to feel the fear and start anyway. Start while you’re afraid.
No matter what the fear is, you can proceed with it.
Can you try to get rid of the fear? Sure. If you want, you can spend time understanding your fear and using reason, logic and evidence to dissolve it.
Or, you can just start anyway.
If you want to understand your fear first, ask yourself if you know what you’re afraid of?
It might be that your creation will suck, or that it’s the wrong thing, or that 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 about these common fears.
It’s not too late.
It’s never too late to be what you might have been. Unless what you might have been is an ingénue.
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 have something you can print out and make a coffee ring on.
You’re afraid to start the re-write and 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. Maybe later you’ll know what you need to do to make it not suck. Or maybe it was a way to get you somewhere else? Maybe you learned what you needed to know? Maybe what you needed to know is that you are avoiding the project you need to do now?
You’re not good enough.
Maybe not. Maybe you’ll need to ask for help. Maybe you won’t ever get good enough until you do this thing.
We get better by doing the thing.
Maybe you’ll never get good at this thing. But doing this thing will reveal the thing you’ll be great at.
Creativity is not linear. You don’t start and then walk a clear straight line to completion.
Your 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.
Accept the fear. And start anyway.
2. Wade Into The Shallow End Of The Pool
One of the biggest mistakes people make about beginning is assuming they need to dive in.
Think of a swimming pool. There are two ways in — diving and wading.
The divers make a splash, but they aren’t necessarily better swimmers. Getting in inch by inch is perfectly fine.
Here’s how you can wade into your project:
- Do it for 10 minutes a day for six days. On the seventh day, assess that first hour. Then, move to an hour a day.
- Talk to a handful of trusted friends about it. Don’t talk to that one friend who always makes you feel badly about what you do.
- Scribble notes on a pad instead of opening a file on your computer.
- Send yourself texts about the project.
- 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 another way to wade into a project.
We think we’re meant to have all the answers at the beginning because everything great that we love seems so intentional.
It feels like those artists had all the answers, but they didn’t — they had the intentions and they knew what questions to ask.
And sometimes they asked them for years.
Can you at least begin to ask the questions?
What’s the story you really want to tell? What’s funny about that? How can you edit 10 minutes 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, and 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, clean your car, Straighten up your desk or desktop, weed the garden.
Get things in order.
Throw stuff away and make room for your new project. The new project may be shy about coming in to where there’s no space for it.
That goes for your head too.
Watch your thoughts, clean them up, and don’t indulge in negative thinking about starting.
This is different than acknowledging you’re afraid. This means when you hear yourself say, “I can’t,” acknowledge it as a negative thought.
If you can’t quite get all the way to “I can,” try “Maybe, I can.”
They say, messy bed messy head, but it goes the other way too — messy head, messy bed. Vicious cycle.
So straighten up the house as you sift through the project, getting ready to start and without beating yourself up for procrastination.
It’s pre-game. Foreplay.
Then go make some coffee, clean it up, and start.
It’s easy to convince yourself you don’t know enough about the topic, craft, logistics, or whatever to start.
OK, so 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 and warming up is a good way to wade in.
Wade in with research and before you know it, you’ve 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, stronger, more flexible, or more evolved before you start.
Don’t wait to write until you’re a better writer. Start where you are.
Don’t wait to be a comedian until you’re funnier. Start where you are.
Don’t wait to start directing until 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, and overwhelming eagerness. Bring your baggage and your ignorance.
Start where you are. It’s a journey and you have to begin the journey here.
So why not now?
7. Give Yourself Permission
I’ve had lots of students come to me who seem to be waiting for permission.
Permission to be funny. To be great. To suck. To be themselves. To change.
Permission to proceed without 100% certainty. To be a girl in a boy’s field. To be a sensitive boy. To be trans in creative transition.
Give yourself permission.
If you insist on getting permission from someone else, permission granted!
Venmo me $88 and what you need permission for and I’ll send you permission slip.
8. Set A Timer
Sometimes when I struggle to focus I set a timer for one hour. It’s enough time to really get something done.
But I also 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 — even if he’s in the middle of a sentence.
I’m not that strict. 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 can’t focus, I set the timer.
The timer can work for you too. Set it for an hour, or even just 30 minutes. Then sit down and work till the bell rings.
And guess what? When it does, you’ll be done with starting.
9. Accept That Starting Is A Process
Races start with on your mark, get set, go. So…does it begin with on your mark, or go?
Does birth start with insemination, labor, or the first baby’s cry?
Does a project start when you begin to think about it, to play with it, or to work on it?
It’s a process. Maybe it started by reading this post. Hello!
10. Do A Geographic
In recovery, they use the phrase, doing a geographic. It means instead of changing yourself, you just move.
And you know, wherever you go, there you are. I 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 there 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. Plus, the meter runs out at an hour.
It can even help 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 check themselves into cheap hotels in order to start and others who rent office space.
Sometimes you need to get out of your own space with everything that’s calling to you to do. All the projects. Sometimes, the comfort of home is just what you need. Stay flexible. Get started.
Two Bonus Tips!
Have a deadline.
Deadlines are lifelines. Don’t have one? Make one. Lots of my clients use sessions with me as a deadline, but there are lots of ways.
Once, a friend told me she’d pay me $1,000 if she hadn’t finished her script by a certain time. She checked herself into a cheap motel and finished.
Shift your language from “getting started” to “I’m starting.”
Always think about giving rather than getting.
Getting started tells your subconscious mind there’s something to receive. If you want to tune into receiving that, set your antenna.
But you can also just let go of having to get anything. Instead, remember starting is a process. Something you actively do over a period of time.
Even reading this can count. You just started.
Now, keep starting.
Want more ideas about how to produce, promote, and profit from your creations?