Starting a project is a daunting task. Whether it’s wood working or writing, you are faced with that infinite plane of possibilities. Sometimes, it stares back at you and challenges you, staring you down in the depths of your soul. It gives no mercy, takes no prisoners, and offers no advice.
Starting is a terrifying place.
The good news is that there’s a bunch of things you can do about this. Some of these tactics work on both wood working and writing. Some do not. I’ve got three that work for both, and want to share them with you.
The first trick is to close your eyes. Imagine a dark room, or a blank slate. Either will work, because you are trying to wipe your mind free of all distractions at this point. Filter out the noise, out the lights, out the feelings on your skin, and try to picture yourself in an imaginary sensory deprivation tank. Note that this is not the infinite plane of possibilities; this is the prime area of space just before the big bang.
Now that you have this blank space that is waiting with anticipation, think visually. It has often been said that pictures tell a thousand words. While it might not be wholly accurate, images do tell us more than the sentences often do. You get color, depth, subject, setting, backgrounds, perspective, emotion, action, location, materials, material status, and more. Not bad for a quick image. This is what you need to put into this blank spot.
Don’t worry about describing the action, or the item, or whatever. Right now, you want that general setting. Is it a beach? A desk? A void in space? Picture it first.
Once you have the picture, then you need to describe it in words. Is it tall? Short? Sandy? Bright? Two toned? Metal? Wood? Can you carry it? Are the people happy? How many people will it take?
This might be the hardest part, but start in broad strokes. For writing challenges, start with the background. What is on the horizon? Is it a dark and stormy night? Or is it a bright and sunny day? Are you at the beach? The depths of space? For woodworking projects, describe the general category of the project. Is it furniture? Artwork? Something functional? Something else?
Once you have the idea, then you can start putting lines or words down to paper. In many ways, this is like water behind a dam looking for a hole. Once that hole is there, the pressure just forces more water out until a stream of ideas has formed.
Another trick is to imagine something you’ve already worked on. Especially good for woodworking, you run through a past project in your head and build something based on that. Or you continue that project. For example, if you’ve built something in the Shaker style, build a matching piece. Maybe you just finished a bedside table. Or a coffee table.
These items will often suggest another item to you. In writing, maybe one character’s backstory wasn’t interesting enough for the last piece you did. But something about it just would not let you go. So write it down. The process of developing the idea will create the rest of the project.
Sometimes, you want to go in a different direction from your last piece. Either you wish to explore a different style or a different genre than you just did. Maybe you want to push yourself into a different direction and get out of your comfort zone. By knowing the last project you’ve done, you give yourself a way to guide your next one, either towards that compass point or away.
Lastly, I will suggest going by function. If you need a bed, for example, your next project should be a bed. If you need a noire piece, write a noire piece. This might be called the “necessity” approach, where what your immediate needs are guide your next direction. It’s not as challenging, because you are limited in course, but it is often doubly rewarding because you got a need done and finished a project.
This last bit is the bonus gift: completion euphoria. Once you’ve finished a project, you are so pumped up you want to tackle another right away. Sometimes this is a good idea, and sometimes you need to stop for the night. Personally, I think you should gauge your emotional and physical state of being at this point. If you think you can tackle another project, jump on it. If you are the least bit cautious, though, sit on it. (I mean, certainly you should clear your space and put everything away for the night. But leave the space ready for inspiration or energy to tackle it in the morning.)
Now, these tips are not going to get you great projects. But they at least will help with starting them. I’m reminded of Sisyphus when it comes to starting a project: the hardest part is getting the ball rolling. Once motion has started, it becomes easier to move it along. Although we have it easier than Sisyphus in that our project has an end point, and we can eventually stop pushing. And we don’t have to go uphill all the time. In the snow. Both ways.