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Toolkit of approaches

20 July 2021 | systems

You have your Big New Thing. It’s creative, daunting, exciting, challenging. Probably a bit terrifying.

When you set out to work on your Big New Thing, you might have it in mind that there’s some beginning place that you go to first and you start there. Then you logically move through a series of carefully planned steps to the end and then that’s it: you’re done. Because that’s what it seems like other people do, right? They get an idea, they make a plan, and then they do it. Done.

The distraction of packages

If you’re building a model airplane from a box and you have all the little parts and the paints and the glue laid out in front of you, this process usually works. For new ideas of any heft, though, this doesn’t happen. If model airplanes haven’t existed before, then likely there’s going to be some mess and some roundaboutness involved.

You Big New Thing hasn’t been done before, so there isn’t a plan yet. If you’re writing a book, you might have a sense of where the story starts, but you will probably find that once you’re several thousand words into the project that the beginning is really…over there somewhere. That’s good. That means you are listening to what the Big New Thing is telling you and rolling with it. You’re working with your creative process, you’re evolving.

Or maybe you’re in a bit deeper. You’ve started up a new side gig and things were going well and now you feel stuck. It seems like the logical next step is to [do Thing X], but for some reason you just cannot do it. Nothing comes out. Maybe that means the plan you created back at the beginning needs to be modified.

The clues along the way

Here’s how I see it: your plan for a Big New Thing needs to largely involve listening to the moment and adjusting on the spot. The plan is to Roll With The Now.

The plan is to have a toolkit of approaches.

Some days when you’re writing you can let the words flow and just lose yourself in it. That’s a tool that you have: the tool of free-flowing language and imaginative construction.

Some days you feel like an uncreative pile of meat and that nothing of any worth will ever come from your imagination. Your tool of free-flowing language and imaginative construction is dull, or tired, or isn’t appropriate to the moment. Ok, fine. Let’s get a new tool out.

On those days, those bleak moments: I suggest that these are perhaps times to pull out a different tool. The deep or dark feelings that rise up in your neck or breast or wherever you get you feeling-intel from: this is a clue for you. This is a clue that is saying today, use a different tool. Maybe read more or for longer, or edit, or research, or go for a walk and talk to yourself. Take a shower. I don’t know—it’s you and your Thing—but consider a new tool.

Make your gravy

The interesting, beautiful, scary thing about any creative endeavor, be it starting a business or writing a novel or even just creating an artistic habit, is that it’s unique to you. Part of the work of creativity is figuring out how your creative process works.

We get used to plans and maps and we start to think that all processes are predictable or plan-able. This isn’t the case.

Part of the work is, like a blacksmith, making your own tools. Or, as Frank Zappa says, “makes its own sauce.”

It’s a beauty and it’s burden, but there it is. You gotta make your own sauce.

There are lots of approaches, and it can be a trick to see how these approaches play out within you, but it’s a critical part of your work: noticing yourself and adjusting your next steps according to what you see so that you can keep the energy of the Big New Thing alive and flowing.

An ancient convent carved out of desert rock.

Convent Mar Saba, Flickr Commons