Finishing creative projectsSubmitted by Earok on Mon, 04/26/2010 - 08:15
I am now a veteran of the Retro Remakes competition, the 48 Hour Global Game Jam, Script Frenzy and NaNoWriMo, having successfully completed entries for all of these within the allocated time.
Yet, every time I do one of those things, I find myself really struggling until near the end. In the aftermath of Script Frenzy, I thought it might be useful for me to write down and share my ideas on completing creative projects while they're still fresh in my mind, and so here it is:
First off, I believe that the most commonly given excuse, lacking time, is not normally the cause of creative projects not being completed:
Let's take this perfectly plausible conversation.
PERSON A: For years I've wanted wanted to write a novel about [such and such]
PERSON B: That sounds great, why don't you?
PERSON A: Well, you know, between work and raising the kids and exercise and [blah blah, long list of important things that need to be done] I just don't have the time.
I think there are very few people who don't actually have the time to do the creative projects that they want to do.
Consider this, the basic minimum acceptable novel length is around 50,000 words (Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye etc). Spread that out over a year, that's just over 137 words. Maybe one or two paragraphs per day! Most people could easily fit that amount of writing into a coffee break. Some people could do far, far more in the same time.
Also, there's weekends, statutory holidays, annual leave from work etc. I am not saying that every free moment should be sunk into a creative endeavour, but how many of us truly couldn't put aside on average just half an hour day to work on a creative project that we really want to come to fruition?
I believe that the real issue is just a lack of motivation:
Working on creative projects is, frankly, really hard work, particularly between the 20% and 80% complete mark. And my theory of stress is, that given the possible expected outcomes of a decision, a human being will always choose the option he or she expects will cause the least amount of stress. Is it less stressful to work out the wording of the dramatic scene you want to write, or to re-check your twitter feed that you already did twenty minutes ago? Ummm..
Unless it is an idea you really exceptionally care about, creating the project in of itself is not normally enough motivation to complete it. Here are the ways that I build motivation:
- Set a deadline - The most important thing you can do, which will help you prioritise that project over everything else that wants your attention.
- Positive rewards - Allow yourself to have something nice for finishing the project.
- Negative rewards - Do something like give money to the NRA if you miss the deadline. Alternatively, you could just stop playing games, watching TV etc until the project is complete.
- Minimise distractions - How difficult is it to unplug that ethernet cable or flick the wireless switch on your laptop?
- Announce and discuss the project frequently - Which in itself can be a positive or negative reward, depending if you actually see it through!
- Draft or prototype - As Stephen King says, the first draft of anything sucks. There's no point in trying to build it the exact right way the first time (Which is next to impossible) so just whip out a complete, if rough, iteration of the project as soon as you can.
- Try to write every thought about your project - It's distracting to try and hold an idea in your mind until you actually implement it.
- Keep a list of stuff left to do - It's a waste of time to open up a project and have to work out what you're supposed to be doing next.
- Prioritise the list of stuff left do do - The easiest way to do this is ask yourself "If I can only do one more thing on the project, what would it be?"
- Schedule the list of stuff left to do - Write a date next to each item on your to-do list. While this can be demoralising if you miss a deadline and have to start over, I find doing this gives useful reassurance that (Assuming your deadlines are achievable) that the project is possible to complete.
Know what you're supposed to do ahead of time - I find that if you know you're meant to do something by the end of a particular day, you'll keep that task in the back of your mind, and work on it mentally during the course of the day.
- EDIT - As Josh had mentioned in the comments below, sometimes you need to force yourself to work on something, even if it's only a small addition. No Plot? No Problem! The official guide of NaNoWriMo suggests that you'll lose serious momentum if you take more than one day off from the project. Something that may help is to try working on a different part of your project, you could stop programming and do art, or you could stop writing that boring dinner table scene and start writing the awesome action packed climax to your novel.
- Also, as Josh has mentioned, it helps setting aside a particular time to work on your project. The only problem is I've never been successful in doing that! Setting a time in the evenings or in the weekend is bound to be interrupted by social obligations, and setting a time in the morning before work.. well.. it's a struggle for me to get up most days!
- Make your project about something you have a passion for. If you don't like reading epic historical romances or watching oscar winning dramas, don't try to make one!
Well, that's it! Some of it is pretty obvious, but I thought it might be useful none the less. Hope it helps.