‘It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.’ The Fellowship prepare to leave Rivendell on the journey to destroy the ring. But Sam feels they are dawdling. But how to start? How to take the first step? Anyone who has circled around a task, not knowing where to begin will know this fearsome monster. And Sam is correct! Not knowing how to start means not getting done.
Not being able to complete a day’s work is disheartening. This can make engagement in the next day more difficult. A vicious cycle! Your day, your week, your month becomes another year in which you achieve nothing of significance. More opportunities drift out of reach.
With a little discipline or pressure we can sit down to start. But then we run smack into a mighty host of obstacles. Our sense of inadequacy, lack of organisation, and the well-meaning distractions of friends and family join the throng. The difficulties from adversaries, circumstances and events are also there.
Here is the best tool I know to overcome this resistance. I use it often. I look forward to taking on the monsters.
Gird your loins
First gather your weapons. Clear your workspace. Set out a block of paper and your chosen writing tool. I like to use unlined A3 paper and a sharp pencil. But a legal pad or A4 printer paper is great.
Then resolve to sit for 30 minutes. A mild discipline and the time it takes to enter the state defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee high chick sent mee high) as “flow”.
Draw two horizontal lines to divide your page into three sections. Label the top “Beginning”, the middle “Middle” and the bottom “End”. Any piece of work you intend to complete can be initiated on this page. I started this note in this way.
Begin at the end!
Describe what the work will look like when you are finished. Under the heading “End”, list 4 to 12 points describing the finished product. I like to use a patchwork of blocks, arrows and short phrases. A mind-map! If you prefer a mind-map avoid pedantic rules. The mind-map police will not be calling. Just dump. It will be a mess! Mess is good!
A bullet-list also works well.
Look neither left nor right. Focus! Describe the end-product. As your ideas develop later in the process you may change much of what you write. Revel in the freedom of this. Splodge it down! For Samwise this may be something like: “Get Frodo into Mordor, survive all the orcs, climb Mount Doom and support Frodo as he casts the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom.
Fill out the middle and the beginning
You will now feel the urge to fill out the rest of the sheet. Let rip! Follow wherever your ideas lead. Fill out the big blocks under “Beginning” and “Middle”. Don’t overthink. Don’t do research. Just unload! Dump it down. For Samwise the middle would include staying with the master at all times. Beginning may have included loading up the pony with food and cooking utensils.
The creative process is ‘primordial’. Chaotic! The process is offered by author and scriptwriter Steven Pressfield. He describes stars being born in cataclysm and the most refined woman giving birth, in filth, sweat and blood and swearing like a sailor. Creating is a mess. For now let rip! The rule to follow is to keep the rules to a minimum. Work in the most comfortable way you know.
Fill out some of the detail
With the major sections defined, you have the structure of your work. You may now fill in more detailed sub-headings under each heading. This is still not the content. But of course, as your sub-headings lift out more detail you will tend towards content. Your time for content will come. Research can follow.
Eventually you will be able to step back to review your plan. Well done. You have begun. You are far from finished. But you have begun.
At this point you may feel like Samwise as they are leaving the Shire. He stops and says “If I take another step it will be the furthest I have been from home”. It is important to learn to revel in this feeling of uncertainty. This is the joy, wrapped up in the angst of creation. The Agony and the Ecstasy.
I coach many people through this process of creation. When you are ready to start – give me a call.