One of the primary pieces of advice I give to any writer (or practitioner of a creative art of any sort) is to keep at it. Don’t stop, don’t let fear prevent you from making something in your dreams real.
For a lot of people, this is necessary advice. For every published author there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, with half-finished, half-started, semi-coherent stories. Most won’t finish them or share them — and that’s okay. Not everyone is an artist.
But when you desire to see it to completion — that’s where you need all the encouragement you can get. I am often surprised by how many would-be writers either have barely started their work or cannot finish one.
I’ve self-published a dozen books. I have two more that are complete but unedited. There are several other stories I have underway that I know will be completed because that’s my work.
But in addition to those, I have probably a good half a dozen to a dozen stories in various degrees of incomplete. One or two are a couple of pages, maybe, or an outline for an idea — but not much beyond that. One or two have some real progress — but then were halted and remain untouched for one of numerous reasons. I expect most of these will never see the light of publication.
While some need the encouragement to keep at it and get the work finished — whether they put it out to the public or not — some need to recognize that it’s also okay to step away.
Dead-ends, impassable obstacles, and other issues can crop up that cannot or will not be pushed past.
How can you tell if it’s okay to step away — or if you’re just making excuses?
Reasons versus excuses
Even when you do your art for money — writing, painting, sculpting, pottery, and so on — you will encounter obstacles, roadblocks, bumps, and dips along the path you take.
Many of these turn out to be self-imposed. Fear of success, fear of failure, and other corresponding fears override your reason. But some are completely outside of you — and will need to be addressed.
We all need food, shelter, and clothing. If you have made zero money on your art and are presented an opportunity you don’t hate to earn cash — you might need to take it of necessity. Thus, temporarily, you abandon your art.
That’s not to say that all conflicts within are excuses while conflicts without are reasonable. Getting dumped, falling down the Facebook rabbit hole doom-scrolling, and not consciously filtering outside influences can create excuses to avoid the work.
By the same token, inability to focus on a project, disliking the direction it’s taking, and no longer feeling it isn’t necessarily an excuse not to do it. It might just be that you learned something that causes the project you’re working on to no longer be a reflection of who you are, your beliefs, values, and so on.
For example, let’s say you were painting a portrait of a famous figure. Someone you love and admire for their work. Then, you learn that they’re transphobic, a narcissist, an abuser, or an otherwise undesirable person. With your admiration for them gone, completing the portrait of them likely would feel disingenuous to you.
This isn’t making excuses — this is you making a conscious choice to step away following reason and logic.
How can you distinguish excuses from reason? Mindfulness.
Employing mindfulness to creative work
When I create a story and work in a world of my imagination, the characters and situations are nearly as real to me as my friends, my home, and so on. That’s not to say I get lost in the reality of my own creation — just that I am mindful of it.
That mindfulness is how I can write about the character’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and intentions in a way you, the reader, can relate to.
I would postulate that every creative takes a similar approach. You are mindful of your creation and how it makes YOU think and feel — and the action of creation puts out your intention to share it. Creatives, as such, are mindfulness practitioners.
Mindfulness is a regular, everyday occurrence you can choose to practice. It makes you conscious and aware of the here-and-now, which puts you inside your head with the ability to see both within and without clearly. That, in turn, opens you to change as needs be.
Mindfulness of your mindset/headspace/psyche inner-being self will connect you to your subconscious. It is in your subconscious that your values, beliefs, and habits exist. I believe that creatives tend to do this to express themselves via their art.
To engage your inner-being self, you employ your six senses and thoughts, feelings, actions, and intentions. When you decide to do this in the now, your conscious awareness reports reasonable, realistic impressions of you and what you are doing.
Thus, mindfulness will ask and answer questions like:
· What am I thinking?
· How am I feeling?
· What am I feeling?
· What am I doing?
This will inform you if you are applying reason to step away from a project or making excuses.
It’s okay to step away
When you practice mindfulness in this way, you can identify if you’re avoiding a project because you have some underlying, baseless fear — or a reasonable reason not to see the project to completion.
Almost two years ago, I had an idea for a story. The title and a plot point came about, and I even wrote a couple of pages. Then, I set it aside.
Recently I took it up again. I started to examine the idea and began plotting out Starfinder’s Children. I got excited about this and was looking forward to employing my newfound respect for plotting and developing the story.
But then I hit a snag. I found the direction I was going was unsustainable. What’s more, my convoluted plot had a lot of holes in it and I wasn’t finding ways to close them. I kept taking stabs at it, put in several days of work, but couldn’t get past the sticking points.
Then, a new idea hit me. I ran with it — and in doing so decided to step away from Starfinder’s Children.
This brings me to my final point here. Just because you step away from a project doesn’t mean it’s a permanent decision. It’s your project, so you can choose at a later time to return to it and address it again.
Just because you step away doesn’t mean you stay away. The choices and all decisions about what to do belong to you.
You, and you alone, can tell if you are being reasonable or making excuses when you want to step away from a project. Practicing mindfulness, you inform yourself where you stand and give the choice clarity. Sometimes an idea doesn’t fully form, or change alters your project.
Thus, you know that it’s okay to step away.
Originally published at https://www.mjblehart.com on March 16, 2021.