On Starting

The interesting thing is that you can start mowing anywhere. The lawn will get done no matter where you start mowing. And that seemed like an important discovery. Because so often I think when I’m writing a poem that I need to start in some specific spot. Where I begin becomes so important that I never begin.

Nicholas Baker’s novel The Anthologist has been an absolute joy to read. The book follows the struggling poet Paul Chowder’s summer as his girlfriend leaves him and he realizes the words don’t come to him like they once did. It’s a book about loneliness and love, the joys of rhyme and meter and the ups and downs of the creative process.

It’s interesting to me all the pressure we sometimes put on ourselves when starting a new project. Steven Pressfield calls this the resistance. Merlin Mann and Seth Godin refer to it as the lizard brain. I call it both of these things. It’s that force that tries to stop us from starting something new.

Sometimes we think we are starting but it’s really just procrastinating. We develop timelines and schedules, distribute responsibilities and plan outcomes, email potential collaborators and spend a lot of time talking about what we are going to do. And all of these things are important, but in the end, they prevent us from actually doing the work.

Why is it so hard to just start? The simple answer is fear. Fear of the outcome. Fear of losing control. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of movement.

You can start anywhere. That’s the thing about starting. If you start, you’re in motion. If you don’t start, you’re nowhere. If you stop, you’re nowhere. I have reached a crisis where I don’t know where to start. It’s arbitrary. I could start with sunlight or clapboards, because is there anything more beautiful than sunlight on clapboards?

It’s seems so simple, doesn’t it? You can start anywhere. All the time we spend planning is stopping us from moving. We spend hours upon hours planning the final result that we forget to even start.

Pablo Picasso said “I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” Stop worrying about the finished product. We can deal with that when we get there. It might change and evolve and grow and split and go places you never planned. And that’s okay. But first you need to start. Start anywhere. Just start.

Am I still talking about art or am I talking about life now? It’s funny to me that most of the writing I’ve done about design/art making over the past year is also about life. I’m increasingly discovering that everything I’ve learned about art also pertains to life. They are pretty similar, aren’t they?


  1. jarrettfuller posted this