Advice on starting projects (and sticking with them)
Plus, your reading recommendations for an artist and new mother
Welcome to the latest installment of my occasional advice column. This time, two questions about starting projects when starting projects is hard—plus, at the end, please help me with reading recommendations for an artist and new mother.
To submit your own creative dilemma for consideration, shoot me a note at email@example.com or just reply to this email.
Without getting into Russian novel lengths I would like some advice on dealing with perfectionism.
I’ve been slowly integrating good therapy on dealing with it and my ADHD but one of the biggest challenges is deciding what to work on and sticking with it. I have too many story ideas! Dozens and dozens of notecards of them and the decision fatigue alone stops me in my tracks let alone the perfectionism aspect.
But an idea is not a story and I would like to finally start finishing my ideas (or at least get the first drafts done.)
So what does a perfectionist do when they can’t motivate themselves to choose a story and stick with it? —J in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Oh boy, can I relate! Looking back, I think one of my biggest problems as a writer has been a hesitancy to commit to ideas. I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for the “right” idea to come along, when I would have been so much better off just starting on (and sticking with) something, anything.
You could call this perfectionism, I suppose, but I think it’s really about fear. You’re afraid that when you start writing one of these story ideas it’s not going to live up to your ambitions. This is a very reasonable fear! Most likely that story idea is not going to live up to your ambitions. But that’s just the nature of first drafts—they’re bad. Blaming the idea is a convenient excuse, a way to leap away from the extreme discomfort of that initial effort. Oh, the idea isn’t right! OK, whew, better start over with a new one. But that’s like resolving to become a runner and, every time you go a few blocks, deciding that you need a different pair of shoes.
So, part of untangling this knot is accepting that the idea doesn’t matter, or not as much as you think it does. If you don’t believe me, listen to the artist Marina Abramović, who told me the following during a phone interview for my first Daily Rituals book: