Why, why? Are you simply lazy, inept and perhaps stupid?
I doubt it.
When we consider the entire arc of the creative process, it’s easier to understand why the last part can be so difficult. Imagine a funnel, wide end open to the sky. At the top, we have the beginning phase of creating. In this wide space, we are flush with the heady, exciting sense of possibility.
Here, anything can happen: Our idea will be successful and lucrative. We love this spacious phase, where our ideas shine with intoxicating brilliance. Our abundance of ideas provides proof to us of our creative genius and allows us to dwell where we’re most happy – in the creative dream.
As we move down the funnel, the realm of possibility narrows toward the realm of reality. We begin to bring our snappy concept down to earth. We map it, sketch it, outline it and force it to live according to the laws of gravity, cost, and the dictates of its genre. As we work on our projects, we come in direct contact with our capacities: how much time, energy, resources and skills we actually have to make our idea real.
This reality check can be really uncomfortable. It can be painful to discover that we often get ideas that we don’t yet have the skills to execute. Squeezed by the dictates of our genre, we’re tempted to abandon the mission. (New, sexy ideas crowd around us at this phase.)
To make matters worse, we can also get caught in the emotional undercurrents that run below the surface. Everything that quietly prevented us from creating now shouts loud and clear. It gets more and more painful to even think about your once-beloved project.
The further into the creative process you go, the narrower the space feels, and the more you are required to deal with the emotional eddies that swirl under the surface of your creative life.
Fears lurk to sabotage us:
- I’m not good enough.
- I don’t have anything to say, or show.
- This has already been done, and better.
- No one will like it.
- I’ll be exposed as a failure.
- If my work is bad, I am bad.
You’re not a fool for feeling these things, and you’re certainly not alone. After thirteen years of coaching myself and others through all these phases, I believe that the work of creating calls us forth in a deeply powerful and challenging way.
The only way to overcome these fears is to keep creating. If you want to know who you are and what makes you tick, take up an art form and stick with it. Staying with a project from start to finish will teach you more about yourself than years of therapy.
Can you accept that this is the nature of art making? Can you stop bemoaning how hard it is? Can you embrace the emotional challenges of writing? If so, there are rewards.
Every project has something to teach us. What’s to learn? It’s different for everyone. You may learn something about your true limits. You may unearth some old wound that will be healed through this particular project. You may discover that the forces that have been driving you are no longer your own wishes.
Sticking with writing and finishing my novel has been the best teacher, the most challenging coach, and the biggest gift I ever gave to myself. My clients, too, have seen themselves develop alongside their commitment to their art. If we don’t finish our projects, we lose the valuable insight that each project has for us.
Next week, I’ll share three vital pieces that have helped my clients and students stay with their projects. In the meantime, what have you gained from your completed creative projects? Share with us in a comment below.
This post is excerpted from Cross the Finish Line: Five Steps to Leap Over the Hurdles to Completion. This and other guides for being a creative superhero are available at Original Impulse through November 30th, 2012. After that, they’re gone. Poof!