Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Overcoming Your Natural Sticking Points (In The Word Cellar)

This week for "In The Word Cellar" I'm taking a short break from the MFA mini-series. I'll be back next Wednesday with a post about MFA alternatives.

I am neck deep in project-planning over here, swimming around in the alternately murky and luminescent waters of creation. To be honest, I feel like I've been treading water for a few months now, trying to find a current to carry me through 2012. This phase of the process -- the sorting, organizing, and choosing phase -- is where I struggle the most. I have lots of ideas! So many potential directions! So many exclamation points! It's exhausting. I tend to be able to see so many sides to a potential project that I get mired and lost in the details. I can't find a way forward because I'm so worried about choosing the "just right" path.

This is the first time I've tried to map out a year's worth of projects at one time. Over the past few years I've been doing bits and pieces as they came to me, which was a big step forward on my creative path. First, just having one or two ideas that I loved felt like a win. Then, figuring out how to execute one at a time was a milestone. And then I started to juggle a few things together, which made me proud. And now I have a full roster of ideas for the next 12 months, plus the seedlings of other goodies just starting to grow into themselves for the future.

But I'm still struggling during the same phase each time, this purgatorial time in-between idea generation and the beginning of true production. I swim in circles, tiring myself out before I begin the core creative process that requires big bursts of energy. Tonight, as I lamented this recurring "stuckness," I realized that I should be celebrating instead. At least I recognize that this is the hard part for me. And knowing is half the battle, isn't it?

Plus, I realized that each time I find myself stuck here it's actually a new place, no matter how much it looks like the old places of being stuck. It's a new place because of the progression I mention above: planning one project, then a few, and then a year's worth at one time. So tonight I'm celebrating this growth instead of bemoaning the frustration.

As I thought about all of this I remembered a post that I wrote for Magpie Girl back in October 2009 called "Overcoming Your Natural Sticking Points." I re-read it tonight and thought, "Wow, this is really insightful. What good advice!" And then I had a big chuckle because I realized that I was finding kinship and direction with my own words. (That's actually quite lovely, when I think about it.)

In that post I explore our natural tendency to be good at specific phases of the creative process, and I offer a few concrete tips on how to move through the "stuckness." You can hop on over to Rachelle's site to read the original article here, or just keep reading, as I've reposted it below.

Oh, and good things are coming, including downloadable ebooklets, Alchemy writing courses (including a new one!), personal coaching packages, and a brand new intensive, small group workshop. More on those in the days to come....

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Overcoming Your Natural Sticking Points

I can't figure out how to start this blog post, which is absolutely perfect. Perfect because I'm trying to write about overcoming your natural sticking point in a project. And mine just happens to be this exact point: the point between brainstorming/mapping out the idea and refining/finalizing the project. I get stuck at the beginning of production and creation.

I used to wonder why "everyone else" has such great ideas and gets so much done. My husband, ever my cheerleader, pointed out that I do have a lot of potentially great ideas, all floating around in my head or stashed away in notebooks. He regularly reminds me that I do manage to get stuff done, even big things like starting a freelance writing and editing business; researching/applying to/enrolling in graduate school; and navigating the treacherous waters of real estate and mortgages to buy our first house.

So what's the problem, I wondered. Why do I sometimes get so stuck that I jump ship and leave my ideas to languish on the deck?

Then a friend shared the concept of the Wheel of Work with me and the pieces fell into place. The wheel tracks the eight phases of a project and can help us to see where we thrive and where we need support. (Note: I don't know the original source of the Wheel of Work. If you do, please tell us in the comments.)

The Wheel of Work


The four sections along the top half of the wheel (Advise, Innovate, Promote, and Develop) are conceptual skills. The four along the bottom half (Organize, Produce, Inspect, Maintain) are skills of execution. 

 I'm naturally skilled in the conceptual half, particularly Advising, Innovating, and Developing. This means I'm good at brainstorming and connecting ideas, thinking about things in new and unexpected ways, researching, and collecting resources. But when it’s time to Organize and Produce, I seize up. All those possible directions and a desire to "do it right" can stymie my attempts at creating. I dream things up, but then I have trouble Organizing my thoughts and moving into Production.

If you look at the wheel, you'll see that Organize and Produce are opposite of Advise and Innovate. This is usually the case: The pieces of the wheel furthest away from our natural strengths are the pieces we find to be most difficult. 
If you get stuck at the point of creation, here are four tips on getting from idea generation to post-production.

1. Collect your project ideas in one place. I struggle with this and tend to have scraps of paper and journal pages littered with ideas. But I do my best to put them all in one notebook that's segmented for different idea types, like essay and article ideas, resources to consult, and possible collaborative projects. This way, I know where everything is and can keep track of my brain jumble.

2. Consider the path of least resistance. Natural-born innovators often end up with long lists of potential projects and no sense of direction. When you have too many projects to choose from, or even too many possible directions within a single project idea, you can end up quitting before you start because you feel overwhelmed. If you can’t figure out what project to focus on, prioritize your list of ideas. The criteria you use for prioritizing is up to you. Maybe you want to pick the project that you think has the most money-making potential. Maybe one project seems ripe for the picking because your audience is hungry for it. 

When in doubt, I say go for the one that most appeals to you. We tend to think that anything "good" has to be "hard," but I say do what works and feels good. Don't think of it as the easy way out. Rather, think of it was the easy way through. The same thing applies to choosing a direction within one particular project. For example, I just kept on writing this post, going in the direction that seemed easiest as I went along. As I got further down the path, I could more clearly see what needed to come next and where I needed to go back and revamp things.

3. Stop assuming and get the facts. One of the ways that we sabotage ourselves is by making assumptions. We assume that we can’t afford a graphic designer, so why bother to start writing that ebook? We assume we won’t find a vacant room at the bed and breakfast we love, so why bother to plan that getaway? We assume we’ll run out of ideas halfway through the article, so why bother to create an outline? Stop it with the what-ifs! Don't let a lack of information dictate your progress. Worrying about what may-or-may-not-be just keeps you stuck. Get the facts you need to figure out the next steps. And remember that not every step of a project is contingent upon another step. Figure out what you can do concurrently, like writing the ebook content while waiting to hear back from designers. If you stay committed to the project, you’ll find a way to make it work.

4. Enlist help. Chances are you have friends and colleagues who are naturally skilled in other parts of the Wheel of Work. When you’re stuck on how to begin or what to do next, ask for input from someone you trust. Even someone with the same sticking points as you may be able to help. For example, although I struggle to see my way forward at the beginning of my projects, I do it with ease and confidence when working with my clients. We tend to create drama and fear around our natural sticking points when it comes to our own projects because we’re emotionally attached to them. An outsider doesn’t have the same baggage and can point the way forward.

This is how I get past my natural sticking points. What are your sticking points along the Wheel of Work and how do you overcome them?

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{In The Word Cellar normally runs on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Read other posts in the series here.}

Reader Comments (2)

Oh we are so very much alike! Thank you for this post, and for introducing me to the Wheel of Work. In all my years working in the project management realm I'd never encountered it. I really like it.

Stephanie : )
January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteph
Thanks for the post. My desire for perfection causes me to stick all along the way.
January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConnie Rawlins

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