I hate beginnings.
No, that’s not true. I hate starting. I love beginnings. The two inhabit the same genus but belong to entirely different species.
The classification has everything to do with sweat and courage and living your life instead of hiding behind it.
Beginnings are beautiful. They are full of vision and dreams and fairies that float above bedposts. They are goose bumps, shivers, and warm bursts of light.
Starting is sitting down and doing the work.
Starting isn’t any of that. Starting is sitting down and doing the work. Starting is the blank page, the empty canvas, the untilled earth. It’s fighting the urge to run fast.
“The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.” – Gretchen Rubin, Better than Before
I used to be a business coach. I worked with entrepreneurs on starting things: websites, courses, products. We also worked on finishing. But first we had to navigate the deceptively tricky terrain of starting.
Because starting is terrifying.
photo credit: andrea boldizsar
It’s terrifying because every doubt, excuse, and story you have about not being enough will rise up and hit you like a guided missile of fear.
I went to my son’s orthodontist a couple of weeks ago. I was talking with the secretary. A pleasant middle-aged woman with a slightly rounded middle and an encouraging smile. She told me that she wanted to write a book. I asked her if she had started. She said, “Not yet. I have the idea for it in my head.” I asked her why she wasn’t writing and she told me it was because she was really busy. But someday. Someday she will write the book.
What she doesn’t realize is that it’s not about writing the book. Or the first chapter. Or even the first paragraph. It’s about the first word. That’s the hardest part. That’s starting.
“We’re all a work in progress, dealing with the voices filling our minds and hearts with destructive messages, searching for the sense of satisfying contribution, trying new things, all of it out of a desire to find what it is that will get us up in the morning.
Far too often, we don’t start because we can’t get our minds around the entire thing. We don’t take the first step because we can’t figure out the seventeenth step.
But you don’t have to know the seventeenth step. You only have to know the first step. Because the first number is always 1.
Start with 1.” – Rob Bell, How to Be Here
We trick ourselves into thinking we have to know everything before we begin anything. It’s how we let fear win. We forget that the practice is the art and anything we do is creation. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared. It doesn’t matter if you’re not ready.
What matters is that you take the bold step of starting.
Here’s what will happen between the beginning and the starting:
In the beginning you will feel excited, inspired, full of everything good and sweet and lovely. And that will last up until the moment you start.
Then, when you start, you will be hit by everything bad and sour and ugly. You will be hit by a forcefield of fear. And it will look something like this:
- I have to take care of this one thing first.
- I don’t have enough time.
- I’m too tired.
- I already have two jobs.
- My kids are fighting.
- Other people need stuff from me.
- I’ll start tomorrow.
- I don’t know how.
- I’m too old. I’m too young.
- I don’t have any good ideas.
- No one cares.
- I’m not smart enough.
- I’m not creative enough.
- I’m not (fill in the blank) enough.
- I don’t have enough support.
- I don’t have enough experience.
- I don’t have enough (fill in the blank).
- Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snap Chat. Email.
- Cleaning. Cooking.
- A coffee break.
- A cigarette break.
- Any break.
- The need to stretch.
- The need to call someone or write someone or see someone.
- More research.
- Youtube. Netflix. Hulu. Amazon.
- Every story about any relationship that derails you in any way.
And it seems so reasonable. The excuses so real. The crappy thinking so true. The distractions so urgent. The drama so important.
But there is nothing reasonable about any of it. It’s just a ploy. A ploy to keep you safe and small and forgotten. It is beginnings run dry. And startings made absurdly complicated.
Starting is the hardest part not because you’re broken but because you’re human.
If you haven’t, read Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art on “breaking through blocks and winning your inner creative battles.” Because Pressfield’s book is the best book I know about starting and terror, bravery and making art.
“I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” – Picasso
In brief, the simplest answer is to start. But because we are human, the simplest response often becomes the most complex.
To help with that a tutorial: Starting 101.
Starting Tutorial 101: How to Get Started With Any Creative Project
This is what I do to make myself start.
1. Make it a habit.
Gretchen Rubin wrote a book about it. Charle’s Duhigg wrote a book about it. I wrote a whole article about it and gave you a step-by-step tutorial here.
Something becomes a habit when it becomes automatic. There is no deciding. No waffling.
I never want to write. Ever. So I don’t give myself the luxury of choice. I go up stairs to my office. At 8am I set my timer for 50 minutes and I write. Even if I don’t know what to write. Even if what I write is shit. I write anyway and I keep writing until the timer goes off. It’s always hard.
But the practice is the art. Not the end-product. So make crap. Make beautiful stuff. Just make.
2. Keep it small.
Don’t commit to the whole book or course or program. Commit to 50 minutes. Or an outline. Or an email. Commit to the first thing.
This is when you let go of the bigness, the questing, the striving. This is when creation becomes microscopic and the next thing is the only thing.
3. Abandon distractions.
I use Scrivener when I write. It fills my whole computer screen. If an idea comes to me while I write, like “look this thing up” or “don’t forget to…” I note it. I work my habit muscles to resist the distraction because the distraction is like crack. It will consume me and slay my art.
4. Focus on the one thing.
If you feel lost because you want to start but you don’t know where, ask yourself this from The One Thing by Gary Kellar and Jay Papasan (and then, when you’re not starting, read the book. It’s excellent.)
5. Then start.
Damn everything else. Resist every diversion. Scorn all resistance. And let yourself make art.
It’s that simple. It’s that hard. And, in the end, it is just starting.