A guide to starting that creative project your heart is longing for

Do you have an idea calling for your attention? A voice in the back of your head, whispering and tugging, telling you there's something you want to do? You want to start that creative project, but for some reason you haven't gotten around to it yet?

Many projects out there never get started. Some just weren't very interesting after all, but I'll bet you most projects never turned into reality because of something else. Overwhelm, doubts, fears, stress, the question of should I really do this..?

Whatever the reason, getting started is almost always the hardest part, so that's what we're going to do today. 

The Why that will keep you going

I want to start with the most important question.

Why the hell do you want to do this?

Sometimes a Why is crystal clear right from the start.
Sometimes a Why more elusive and vague.
Sometimes a Why is a complex and ever changing figure.

Whoever your Why is, it's a good idea to get to know it.

When you're clear on why you want to do something, it serves as your guiding light. A why helps you decide what is important in your project and what's not. It helps you decide which way to go when you face crossroads.

Most importantly, a why helps you to keep going when you feel like quitting.

To learn who your Why is, try asking yourself these questions:

  • What makes this idea more compelling than the other ones?
  • Why is this project important to me?
  • What would it mean for me, personally and creatively, to make this project? 

Now try to describe your answer in one or a few sentences.

Then write it out big and bold, put it up in a place where you can look at it if you start to feel uncomfortable and insecure. On the wall behind your working space if you have one, or as a screen saver for your laptop. Or get a t-shirt with your Why printed on it.

The point is this. Keep your Why clear and keep it close. You will need it when your project feels hard or boring or you feel completely incapable of making it happen. That's when you need to go back to your why and let it lead you forward again.

The Fears and Doubts who say no

Every creative project that is worth making puts you in contact with fears and doubts of some kind. They may scream, or whisper, or just affect your behavior without you realizing it. Some are bold, some cruel, some sneaky, and most of them tend to highly dislike creative work.

Just like you Why, it's a good idea to get to know your Fears and Doubts. When you do, you'll understand what's happening when they pop up. You can identify them for what they are – just voices in your head – and not reasonable arguments for quitting.

To figure out which doubts and fears you will encounter in this project, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why shouldn't I make this project?
  • What's the worst that could happen?
  • What am I afraid would happen if I don't manage to make this project exactly as I envision it? 
  • What is keeping me from starting it? 
  • Why would someone else be better at doing this than me?

The answers to those questions - they are not facts. They are little stories your brain make up to keep you safe from the scary, creative world.

They are not the truth, they are what you fear. 

Ideas like these will pop up at one time or another. They will tell you to not start, to quit, to take the safe road and that you're not good enough.

Fears are not easy to argue with, because they don't use logic. What you need to do instead is to just accept that they are there and to keep creating anyway.

Your task is to write out your biggest fears surrounding this project. Then I want you to write over or under or around it in big letters:

THIS IS A FEAR.
HI FEAR!
YOU DON'T GET TO MAKE ANY DECISIONS.
I WILL CREATE ANYWAY.

BECAUSE MY WHY IS MORE IMPORTANT AND I'M BRAVE.

Or something along those lines.

See how handy that Why is? It's your antidote. It's what you should focus on when Fear and Doubt is calling for your attention. 

The trick with fear is to recognize it for what it is and to keep our strategies clear for when it tries to pull us away from creating. We focus on our why and we keep creating, even if we're terrified. That's creating bravely. 

The Things and Stuff that is in the way

Generally, there's a whole long list of things we need to do before we can start. Now that list is usually just a how-to-procrastinate, but we often need at least a few tools. So let's get that out of the way.

I want you to make a list of the Things and Stuff you need to have or do before you can start this project, but there are two rules.

One, it has to be as short as possible.

Two, you're not allowed to write anything that you can't afford, can't get for some other reason or that keeps you from starting for more than a few days.

Say your project is to start working on a novel. Here's a list of things you don't need:

  • Endless books on writing
  • A degree in creative writing
  • A laptop
  • A great idea
  • A desk
  • Lots of time

I'll accept pen and paper. Or, if your project is a photo project, make do with your phone's camera until you can afford a better one. Or if you want to paint cats, start with some basic tools from your closest toy store or art shop if you easily can get to one.

Getting started is usually hard because there are LOTS of reasons we can't start today. We always need to this or that first. And that's what makes you end up never starting, just thinking and planning. That's why I want you to be firm with yourself and not get sidetracked by all of these made up conditions.

You never need the perfect conditions to start.
I mean, there are no perfect conditions anyway, so stop chasing them.

The Plan that you'll actually keep

The best plan is the one you keep. Let me tell you what my natural project cycle looks like if I don't plan with intention:

  • First, I get super excited and plan to do LOTS because it's so amazing.
  • Then, I get kinda tired.
  • So I take an unplanned break.

That's it. Project over.

Obviously, that's not really a good plan. We're usually not very good project planners when we just do and don't stop to think. So let's do that. Think.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time can I free up, while still having time to rest and do other things I enjoy?
  • Can I break up this project in a few different phases? 
  • Can I estimate how long each of those phases could take, while realizing that things often take a little bit longer than we would like them to?
  • Am I usually helped by deadlines? 
  • Are there parts of the project that I can't plan now and need to plan later?
  • What would I be helped by planning and what is better to keep unplanned? 
  • What projects have I successfully finished how were they structured?

We're all different, with different lives and different preferences. Therefore, there are not right or wrong plans, just plans that will help you and plans that won't. Figuring out how you work best is crucial to becoming a happy project planner. 

Our projects are also different. Some need practically no planning and are best made through exploration. Others are so overwhelming that we need to break them down into smaller parts before we start.

Your quest here is to try to figure out how you and your project will get along best. Make a plan designed for you and your project - whether that means a long detailed one or just a short bullet point list. 

Remember this - you can always change your plan, in fact, most creative projects change so much along the way that you'll need to. Don't push yourself so hard that you'll burn out and quit, but don't give yourself so much time that you'll just procrastinate it all. And adjust as you go.

The Start that comes before you're ready

We have now arrived at the start. You've probably heard it before, but it's worth saying again:

You need to start before you're ready.

In fact, you'll never be fully ready. It would mean that there are no unknowns and insecurities and if there weren't, this wouldn't a creative project. You'll never know enough or have enough skill. But it's completely okay, because guess what?

You'll learn.

Along the way, you'll realize what you need to know and then you'll go and learn that. You'll struggle with aspects of your project and that struggle will make you better. There'll be things you don't know how to do, and you will explore and think and experiment, and then you'll suddenly have mastered it.

There is no better time than now. Really. If you click away this post and do nothing, you won't have gotten any closer to doing that project. Reading this isn't enough, you have to act too. But it's up to you now.

Only you can start this project and only you can keep yourself from starting it. You have the future of this project in your hands and it desperately wants you to do the first little thing that will be the start of making it happen. 

Now what was your why again?