Creative types: how do I avoid becoming discouraged?

The life cycle for my creative projects:

  1. I get a new idea, and I think, “hey this would make a great novel!”

  2. I brainstorm, do research, flesh out the details, and become very enthusiastic. I start thinking that I may be onto something big…

  3. I begin work in earnest. I have energy and enthusiasm to spare. I accomplish a lot.

  4. Nagging doubts set in. I wonder how probable success really is, considering how many aspiring writers there are, and how few of them ever get published. My fantastic new idea starts to feel a little stale. The work becomes a burden, and the task of actually finishing the project seems insurmountable.

  5. I become discouraged. I realize that I won’t finish what I just started. I start to wonder if I’ll ever have what it takes to be a successful artist, or if I’ll spend the rest of my life in dead-end jobs, clinging to pathetic pipe dreams to preserve my sanity. Melancholia sets in, and I take a “break” from my novel.

  6. I focus on other, more practical things and eventually cheer up. I lose all interest in the project. It collects dust in some dark corner of my hard drive.

  7. Go to step #1
    I can’t speak for every creative person, but I’m under the impression that this is a common pattern, and not just for writers. How do I deal with it? How can I cultivate a better mindset and break out of the cycle? How do I actually finish something?

I would actually recommend signing up for NaNoWriMo, which some dopers are discussing over [thread=488938]here[/thread]. It was inspired from something similar to that pattern, and it can provide you with four things

  • a fixed timeline for your project.
  • a community that will offer a LOT of encouragement when you hit the wall
  • a goal line that is reasonable for the 30-day timeline
  • a sense of great accomplishment when you get to that goal, regardless of whether your inner critic believes that the projects is completed.

Take a look at the site - - and see what you think! It’s not for everybody, but I think the fit with your OP is a really good one.

Some thoughts:

  1. Seems like a lot of the fun for you is in the initial stages - so maybe a top down approach would work best. Do the outline first, then fill in more details for each part, then write the actual text last.

  2. Everybody gets blocked from time to time. The key is to keep working through the block even if you only produce shit. Consider the shit times as practice. You can always go back and edit/revise what you have later and it will be less work then waiting for the spark to ignite on it’s own.

  3. Maybe you’re an idea man and will never enjoy the nitty gritty aspect of writing all the text yourself. Flesh out a good detailed outline and coordinate with someone else who doesn’t have the great ideas you do, but loves to write what someone else has already outlined.

  4. Maybe you love to write the actual text too, but just can’t sustain it for too long. Keeping the same ideas and outline, just make it a short story or novella instead. You’ll then have the satisfaction of a finished project, and can always expand it at a later date.

The thing that works for me is stopping thinking about the project I’m working on as a whole and concentrate on whatever tiny part I’m taking care of right that moment.

If I had to write a novel, for instance, I guess I would try to push away thoughts about all the pages I’ve yet to do, and the tedious rewriting process and I would just think of the paragraph I’m doing.

I agree with jackdavinci, writing a novel is an immense undertaking. A great way to make this even seem achievable is to write and complete short stories, working your way up through novellas. You put in the practice, you feel like you’ve acheived something, you may even have your work noticed through competitions and short story magazines.
If you find that your short stories are becoming sprawling epics, reign yourself in. Try to think of a structure for your story (and especially an ending; a finish-line) before you start it. I know a lot of writers don’t think this way, but in order to gain confidence in your ability, think long term: 'limit your writing now so that completion becomes a regular part of your writing structure. In this way, when you eventually get down to spinning that great American (presumption) novel, you’ll have the mental tools to see it through to the end.

I’m not strictly speaking from experience. I wrote a number of short films, and eventually felt I had the where-with-all to finish a feature-length film. And I did!

I spent many years working on various projects as a manager of one sort or another in the IT field. I found that the hardest thing to deal with was that every project goes like this:

  1. Management come up with an idea, “This would be a really useful project.”

  2. A team is assembled and begins to work on this attractive project. They are very enthusiastic. They think they may be onto something big…

  3. We begin work in earnest. The team has energy and enthusiasm to spare. They accomplish a lot. All is going well.

  4. Things start to go wrong. Some of the specs don’t work out, a bit of integration testing shows a flaw in our logic, there is no magical brainstorming now, it’s just cutting lines of usable code. The work becomes a burden, and the task of actually finishing the project seems insurmountable. We cut the test cycle.

  5. The team become discouraged. they realize that they won’t finish what they started. They will deliver, despite their best intentions, a half assed version of what they promised, full of bugs and far less functional than what the users required.

  6. They give up and mindlessly console themselves with the thought that, “this is nearly over.” In some perverse way this allows them to cheer up. They lose all interest in the project.

  7. Go to step #1

Sound familiar?

The trick for the good project manager is to recognize that this is the pattern for most human achievement. Just ask anyone about their “New Year Resolutions” , ask smokers about giving up, ask fat people about losing weight, anything at all. People can jump into anything while it has the thrill of the new, but as soon as it is part of everyday life it becomes something to resist.

So what you have to do, going in, is know what is going to happen and plan for it. Work out what kinds of thinking will fuck-up your progress and deal with it when it happens. Don’t fight it, just accept that the negative thoughts have arrived, right on schedule, acknowledge them and then get on with something useful.

No-one can stop the little voice in their head that says that “the idea is a little stale” or “will I ever have what it takes to be a successful artist” or “I’ll spend the rest of my life in dead-end jobs.” But you don’t have to listen to it - there are ways to permit it tio have its say without acting on its useless advice.