I’ve had an idea in my head for years. It’s a fictional tale that could be a pilot or a short story. I know the 10-second elevator pitch, but I have yet, in all this time, to work on it.
And instead of diving in today, I thought “why not write about why I’m not writing?” Procrastination through exposition, if you will, to help any of you stuck in the I’ll-start-this-thing-one-day carousel you can’t get off.
Problem #1 — An idea is the illusion of an argument.
Until I write it down, there are no plot holes, there are no dead ends, and there is no feedback. Until I start, it still has the hopes of becoming a masterpiece. This is the issue with treating a new idea like it’s your baby. It’s not. It’s just a representation of what you hope to feel if you brought it to life.
So often I realize that I don’t want to create, I want a fool-proof playbook for success, fulfillment, and admiration. Shame that’s not how output works.
Problem #2 — Starting would reveal how little I’ve figured out about the story.
It’s quite humbling to begin a writing session only to be stuck in a labyrinth of “What am I doing?” 13 minutes later, bereft of direction and hope. Just like that, two years of an “idea” can be destroyed in the amount of time it takes to make a box of mac & cheese.
It’s no wonder that we procrastinate on creative projects. Who wants to go tussle with a bear in a dimly lit corn maze, voluntarily?
Plot? Theme? Character arc? Synopsis? Those sound hard, but my idea sounds way cooler!
Problem #3 — I might not actually want to write this
How do I know if this story is something I really want to work on or if it’s a “shadow project”?
Steven Pressfield coined the term “shadow careers,” but I’m talking about those “shadow projects,” the ones we work on because we’re too afraid to start the ones that matter most to us.
If we’re not careful, the buoyancy of a new idea can encapsulate us in a bubble of safety and stagnation instead of providing lift and opportunity.
Here’s what I know.
- You can’t get anything done without spending time on it.
- You can’t spend time on something until you give yourself permission to focus on that thing.
- You won’t give yourself permission to focus on that thing until you convince yourself that it is worth it to do so.
So, to eventually get anything done, you have to believe that the next sequence of minutes is worth your effort. And when you’re tackling a big idea, it can be hard to sway your internal jury to focus on that handful of time.
Here’s the trick. Don’t tell yourself that you want to write/create an idea of yours, say that you want to explore an idea of yours. More hypotheses, less declarations.
Procrastination is not about time management, it’s about fear. It’s the burden we put on ourselves about who we are, what this thing “should” be, and what it would say about us if we fell short. That’s what we have to let go of.
Don’t look for the answer, just find an answer.
The act of doing is the release of tension.
So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll amble on my keyboard and see where my fingers take me in the next 30 minutes. Whatever happens on the other end doesn’t make me any less of a person or an artist. Of course, I secretly knew that was the way through, but the dark, bear-laden maze can be an SOB, no matter who you are.
(Speaking of finishing what we start, my good friend, author, and speaker, Antonio Neves recently interviewed me on that very topic. I think you’ll enjoy our chat: How To Finish What You Start.)