How To Tackle Hard Creative Projects
Dear Dr. Maisel:
I am pretty good at doing work that comes easily to me but I know that I shy away from the creative work that might prove the richest and the most exciting — but that scares me by its largeness and technical difficulties. Any advice about how I can choose hard projects, instead of always choosing easy ones? – Susan L., Seattle
Human beings often get in the habit of taking the easy way out. At the same time, they know the immense joy and satisfaction they get from trying something really hard. They also know that the real work they want to tackle can be genuinely difficult to accomplish. By taking the easy way out they miss out on accomplishing their real work and they miss out on deep satisfaction and joy.
What really distinguishes the richly productive, innovative artist from the would-be, blocked or formulaic artist? The former looks at the blank ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and says, “Wow, what a great space!” The second says, “My lord, no way I’m touching that!” The second scares himself right out of trying.
If you find yourself dreaming up a big project and then in the very next instant thinking, “That will be too hard!” learn how to fight back against that defeatist self-talk. Instead of seeing difficulty, see opportunity. Try replacing, “This will be too hard” with “This will be easy,” “This will be hard but not that hard,” or “This will be very hard—but I’m game.”
Each of these three responses has its merits and it doesn’t matter which one you choose. The important thing is that you instantly dispel the idea that certain projects are too hard for you and that certain work is beyond your capabilities.
Creativity Coach Advice
Today, if you feel like it, pick a very hard creative project to tackle, one that you would not normally contemplate even for an instant. Decide to think that it will be easy — or at least not that hard. Feel an agreeable enthusiasm and anticipation rise up in your being. And then begin. Yes, it may prove very hard! We aren’t saying that it’s going to be easy. What we are saying is, it may really be worth the effort.
Tomorrow, continue with this very hard project. Having worked on it for a day, you now have some idea of just how easy and just how hard it will be. If it turns out to very hard, say “Yes, this is exactly as hard as I thought it would be! — but I’m still game.” Do not let its hardness stop or deter you. You knew it would be hard! Accept that fact and keep working. And who knows — it may prove easier than you imagined.
The day after tomorrow, with two days of work under your belt, you can better evaluate your project’s genuine hardness. Maybe your large painting now really excites you. Maybe it really excites you and you see a thousand problems looming. Which do you want to underline for yourself, the excitement or the looming difficulties? Opt for the excitement! It is your choice whether to focus on how much you are enjoying yourself and how proud you are feeling or on how much you are sweating and how much sweat remains.
At the end of those three days, take a moment to determine which phrase you like the best among “This is easy!”, “This is hard but not that hard,” and “This is very hard!—but I’m game.” Then remember to use it. Use it as you work on this current project and use it the next time you come upon a blank Sistine Chapel ceiling waiting to be painted. Instead of exclaiming “This is too hard!” remember your affirmation. Then gulp and get our your paintbrush.