How to Make Yourself Start an Intimidating Project

how to start writing a manuscript

One of the most euphoric and gratifying states known to mankind (and ladykind!) is flow, that state of total immersion in a creative task. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology, believes it is the very essence of happiness. (Check out his TED talk here for more on that.)

I think any creative can agree that flow is pretty darn awesome. But it can also be pretty darn intimidating, because it puts the creative process on such a pedestal. How are we supposed to start flowing when it’s so intimidating to even get started?

Sometimes we have such a grand, vivid vision of exactly what we’d like to create, that we get overwhelmed by our own ideas. We can see what we want it to be—we can see it so vividly we can almost reach out and touch it. But instead, what’s in front of us—what we’re actually touching—is only 1/100 as spectacular as the vision. And that is a sucky feeling.

But it happens to ALL of us. All the time. Our imaginations can create pretty spectacular things, but sometimes our hands and brains just. Will. Not. Cooperate. Which is exactly why it’s so important to remember that getting started is just that—it’s Step 1. And Step 1 isn’t supposed to look anything like Step 10,256.

As important as it is to keep the long view in mind—to remember where it is you want to go and why you want to go there—sometimes the long view can cloud the short view. If you’re staring at the peak and you’re overwhelmed by the length of the path, how can you ever take the first step?

So whenever you feel that rush of fear and resistance to getting started, narrow your focus. Put your blinders on and focus on nothing but that first tiny step. Don’t think about the end goal; don’t worry about what comes next. Just do the first small thing you need to do to transition into your task. And keep in mind that the first step is likely much smaller than you think. It’s not “write the first chapter” or “set up a Pinterest account” or “develop a recipe.” The first step is the smallest possible building block of a task—the very first action you must take to get started.

Taking the smallest step looks like this:

Turn off the TV. Pull out your knitting needles.

Disconnect your wifi and open a Word document. Write one sentence.

Walk into a quiet room. Take out your craft supply bin.

A lot of the time, the very smallest step is about creating time and space and quiet. Once you’re in that distraction free zone, and your work is the only activity available to you, you’ll flow more naturally into starting it. And when your creativity is flowing, you’ll find that your best, most meaningful work is also your most enjoyable work.