Ah, passion projects. They can grab ahold of you, and help you fulfill your deep desire to create.
They can also make you want to bash your head against a wall in frustration because they are NEVER GOING TO GET DONE. Even though working on your passion project will probably make you happier in the long run, it's so easy to opt for the short-term happiness of rewatching old Parks and Recreation episodes instead.
But it is possible to finish your passion project (and make plenty of time for Leslie Knope as well)! I started writing a book, The Summertime Girls, two and a half years ago, and it just came out on August 4th. Through a whole bunch of trial and error, I found five strategies that helped me get my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard. I hope that, no matter what your passion project is, these can help you too.
1. Let yourself dream big.
At a certain point, you'll have to bring yourself back down to reality. But the beginning is not the time for that. If you go into writing your novel with the mindset that it will never get published, or plan to record an album while telling yourself that no one will ever listen to it, you'll be much less motivated to get to work. When I started writing my book, I let myself daydream not only that it would get published, but also that it would get made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and me, and my life would be perfect. I highly doubt that's going to happen (although, if Jennifer Lawrence is reading this: Hey, want to do a movie together?), but it got me going. So I say, let yourself imagine that your recycling drive will stop climate change! A little bit of delusion can be an excellent motivator.
2. Have someone to hold you accountable.
Especially when you're just starting a new project, it's easy to give up at the first sign of difficulty. When you have 20 pages in your novel and you're not sure what happens next, of course you'll be tempted to chuck it. Luckily for me, when I was at this stage, my roommate Katie was working on a project too, and we formed a writing group. Once every few weeks, we'd sit at our kitchen table, read each other's stuff, and discuss. If I gave up, I felt like I'd be letting myself and Katie down. So I kept going. (She did, too, and launched her own business about intuitive eating!) Find a friend who is on the same page, and be each other's taskmasters/cheerleaders.
3. Incentivize your working time.
Maybe you have lots of free time in which to work on your passion project. Maybe you have very little. Whatever amount you have, make it something you're excited about. If you like to work in coffee shops, plan to carve out some time in your favorite one. Figure out what delicious drink you're going to get to sip on while you're working. If you work in your apartment, buy some pretty candles that you can only light when you're designing that website -- or buy a bottle of wine reserved for use when you're painting. (Just maybe don't drink the whole thing in one go, unless you're aiming for the whole sloppy, random paint splatters aesthetic.)
4. If you get stuck, let yourself be stuck.
In his book On Writing, which I highly recommend, Stephen King tells aspiring novelists to crank out at least 1,000 words a day. And that's great advice. Sometimes.
But sometimes the words just won't come. Some days, while working on The Summertime Girls, I'd reach a place in the plot and freeze up. I'd sit in front of my computer screen and agonize about it, and then all sorts of doubts would creep in. You're never going to finish. What makes you think anyone will want to read this drivel? It would get worse the more I told myself I had to attain a certain goal that day.
So, occasionally, I'd just get up and do something else. I'd go for a long walk. I'd watch a movie. I'd sleep. Sometimes I'd go three days without looking at my book. And the craziest thing happened -- my mind worked on the problem without me even realizing it. So when I came back on the fourth day, I knew what was supposed to happen next. Setting deadlines for yourself is great, but know when you need to break your own rules.
5. Realize that your passion project is never going to fix all your problems.
It would be amazing if your passion project filled all the holes in your life and provided you with a constant creative high (and made your hair shinier and your legs longer and your sweat smell like roses), but it won't. Sometimes it will be a slog. Even if you finish it, you may find it disappointing. Maybe it won't get the reaction you hoped it would.
But it's still worth it. Because you'll have moments of transcendence and inspiration. You'll have proved to yourself that you can put your mind to something and make it happen. And then, you can start the next one.
I'm always looking for new ways to improve my focus with my creative projects, and would love to hear what has worked for you in the comments section!
This post originally appeared on KatieSeaver.com
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