I showed up to the library with my laptop, writing pad and pen in hand, ready and determined to tackle the challenge ahead. Within minutes, other excited and ambitious writers filled the room, some published and others just beginning their writing career. No matter where we were in our writing journey, we all gathered on that first Tuesday in November for one reason – to participate in a writer’s shut-in for National Novel Writing Month (aka NanoWriMonth), a popular writing project in which writers all over the world take on the challenge to write a book and produce 50,000 words during the month of November.
After introducing ourselves and our projects, we spent the next three hours writing and typing away to reach our personal word count. The host announced the plan to meet every Tuesday evening for the entire month. I left the first session excited about my NanoWriMonth project. I could do this, I thought as I headed back home. I could finally finish my novel during this challenge.
But that first NanoWriMonth writing session at the local library several years ago also became my last because I never returned. The determination dwindled. Not even the promise of refreshments, coffee and the support of other writers enticed me enough to return for the second round. And that book I vowed to finally finish during November? I never wrote past the first opening chapter.
I wish I could say work became too busy or my other obligations on Tuesday evenings prevented me from participating in this fun challenge. But the fact is, I have a habit of starting projects and not following them through to completion. It’s not even because of boredom or lack of time. I just get distracted by the many ideas that pop into my head on a regular basis.
I can be pumped up about an idea and all in...until a new shiny idea crosses my path, teasing me to follow after it. And then I’m off chasing it while abandoning my current task with a “sorry, not sorry” and “I’ll get back to you someday” attitude.
The result: Stacks of unfinished short stories, half-finished novel chapters, incomplete projects, and the list goes on.
This is a common problem for creative folks because we tend to have so many ideas yet limited focus, making it hard to execute any of them. My Creative ADD has hindered my progress on numerous occasions because it prevents me from starting or finishing a task and seeing my idea all the way through from implementation to completion.
Certain seasons in our lives make it harder to focus than others. Maybe you’re in a place where you lack clarity and focus and you’re ready to give up before you even start. I’ve had to learn how to improve my focus so I could finally get things done. It’s definitely not easy, and it requires serious effort. Here are some tips to help you control your Creative ADD when it rears its finicky head and attempts to throw you off of your A game.
Problem: “My thoughts are all over the place. I can’t keep up with my ideas.”
Solution: Create a system
A lot of creatives I’ve come across tend to avoid structure because they feel it can ruin their creative process or disrupt their flow. I felt like that too until I found myself going around in circles, which adds unnecessary stress as you cope with the challenges of every day life. I learned creativity without structure and a plan leads to chaos.
I think it’s all about finding the right balance between the two. Here are a few ways to keep your creativity in check without blocking your creative flow.
- Keep it together: Use a task management app that allows you to keep track of all of your daily/weekly tasks. I recently discovered Todoist, and I love it. This to-do list app lets me manage my personal tasks, work projects and even fun activities, like movies to watch or books to read all in one place. You can even break down your complex projects into smaller projects. There’s a variety of task management apps available for creatives, so just find one that works for you.
- Write (or pin) out your vision: Whenever you get a new idea for a project that you really want to pursue, create a plan with measurable goals from the start. Write down your vision and mission statement or create a board on Pinterest that reflects your goals and objective. It’s a struggle to keep the momentum going on a huge project without a plan in place, especially when you hit a creative lull. Developing a plan for your vision gives you a strong foundation for your creative work without taking away your creative freedom. With a vision in place, you can determine if your new ideas align with your mission and goals.
- Check it off: Sometimes, there’s nothing like writing down your tasks by hand and then checking them off old-school style. I have a tiny obsession with journals, planners and workbooks, so I like to invest in products that keep me organized in a simple way. Because I’m definitely not the most organized person, several planners have kept me on track. Some of my recommendations include: Epic Blog, Your Best Year, The Novel Planner, Ultimate Monthly Business Planner and the Daily Greatness Journal.
If you need help finding more time for your creative work, click here for 5 simple ways to create during a hectic schedule.
Problem: “I have too many ideas. I don’t know where to start!”
Maybe you’re a person who can come up with ideas without trying, and you're the real MVP during every brainstorming session. But your abundance of ideas produces zero harvest because you never start anything. You never lack ideas... you just lack results.
I struggle in this area, which makes it hard to commit to one idea. Not long ago, I expressed to my husband that I wanted to finally finish one of my many book projects that I’d started over the years. His “which one” response was a normal follow-up question to my statement. When I shrugged and said, “I don’t know” he told me I just had to choose.
It sounded like such an easy solution. Too easy. I explained to him that I couldn’t "just choose." I mean the project had to feel right, didn’t it? I needed to connect with the characters. I couldn’t just pull a title out of a hat and pick. I needed more time to sit on it and think (even though I had sat on some ideas for years).
But after all of my explanations, his answer remained the same. “Just pick ONE.” To take it one step further, he pulled out a calendar, we picked a date and then he held me accountable to choose my book by our agreed date (two weeks later).
Accountability goes a long way. It helps you to take action and make a commitment. I picked my book by the deadline, and I’ve put all other novels on hold in the meantime. Choosing a project doesn’t need to become an agonizing decision. A huge part of my problem was starting, so our initial focus wasn't on choosing a deadline to finish my book. Sometimes you just need accountability to start.
Do you have a family member, friend, writing buddy or mentor who can hold you accountable to your project? Choose someone who will support you and challenge you to start and cheer you on through completion.
Problem: “I don’t know if I picked the right idea. I’d rather just work on all of them at once until I figure it out.”
Solution: Evaluate your season
Okay, so deciding on one book to complete out of my many book ideas wasn’t an easy decision. I couldn’t just roll the dice and choose. I’m equally excited about all of my book ideas, but I picked the one that spoke to me the most and connected with me in this season of my life. I probably would have made a different selection a year ago.
Maybe you also feel equally passionate about all of your projects and you want to work on everything right now. However, working on everything right now tends to lead to nowhere. Some ideas are meant to be executed right now while others are destined for another season. But to be honest, we’re just not ready to fully take on certain ideas. Sometimes we need more experience, direction, clarity or training. Other times God says “Wait. Not right now.” His timing is strategic.
Think about your current season in life. Which idea aligns with your vision? If your goal is to launch a freelance career or write a nonfiction book, then commit to the idea that will help you accomplish your goal in the timeframe you desire. We don’t want to do anything out of season. Although I had numerous ideas I intended to work on before I launched KYM WRITES, my idea for this blog superseded everything else because of a life transition and new season.
It’s important to evaluate our current situation and ask ourselves, does this idea align with my purpose in this season. What’s urgent? What can wait? Is this what God wants me to do right now? Prioritize your ideas and regroup if necessary.
Problem: “I picked an idea but the other ones keep calling me...”
Solution: Moderate your options
Generating new ideas is exciting and stimulating. It’s part of the creative life. Most of us have a variety of passions and manage multiple projects at the same time, whether it’s blogging, writing, creating, teaching, coaching, reading, etc. Multitasking is not the problem. The issue occurs when we abandon an idea/project altogether because we’ve become sidetracked with other opportunities. Juggling current tasks/projects is different than trying to bring five ideas to life at the same time.
Instead of running after every idea that popped into my head, I decided to keep an “ideas” journal – a place to jot down my thoughts for projects, stories and any other creative work to keep me focused on the current task at hand. As soon as I committed to work on one project, I received clarity and became more focused. I put my energy into implementing one idea and stopped trying to write five books at one time.
Once you make a decision to work on something, stick to it. New ideas will always come along. Keep your ideas close so you don’t forget them, but don’t let them become a distraction from your current commitment.
Problem: “I lost my excitement because it’s too much work.”
Solution: Plan in advance
Are you off to the next new shiny thing because you’ve hit a roadblock and you don’t know how to move forward? I’ve done this before when writing short stories. If I’m stuck on a particular part and I don’t get that big “aha” moment or breakthrough for the story, every other story idea sounds more interesting, and I move on.
Sometimes, a roadblock is a legitimate reason to put an idea on hold. It may be an indicator to circle back to your project at another time. Other times, we give up too easily without putting in the required amount of work first. Some of my story ideas needed to be put to rest, while others weren’t working because I wasn’t working hard enough.
When it becomes extremely hard and tedious and we lose all creative inspiration on a project, it becomes easy to give the current idea the deuces and move on to something new, fresh and exciting. Exhaust every possibility before you let it go.
If you’re a big picture person like myself, you may not know all of the details or tasks required to fully execute an idea until you’re knee deep in the process. Before you dive headfirst into your next project idea, do your homework. Find out what you will need to make it happen and develop a plan to get there.
I've never had a problem committing to my responsibilities to others. If I tell someone I’m going to do something, then it gets done – no ifs, ands, or buts. So why can’t I pledge that same amount of commitment to myself? I need to show up for myself in the same way I do for others. I can’t give myself permission to abandon a current project for the sake of chasing endless ideas.
Oh and as far as the NanoWriMonth lurking around the corner, I plan to participate this year. Although I have a scheduled vacation in the middle of the month, work and other responsibilities, I intend to start and commit to the challenge until it ends on November 30th. Although 50,000 words would be nice, I’m not getting caught up on the word count. No need to place unnecessary pressure on myself. I’ll do what I can, but it’s important for me to go all the way with this challenge the second time around. I’m ready to express my creativity in completion. I’m tired of chasing ideas.
And it’s finally time I settled down.