Monday is guest post day at Magpie Girl, when people I adore offer YOU fabulous value-filled things worth reading.
One of today’s posts is by Jennifer McGuiggan of The Word Cellar. Jennifer is a professional freelance writer and editor. As such, she knows a thing or two about creative cycles. She’s talked me out of more than one slump, launching me past my sticking points and on to project completion. Today she shares with Magpie Girl readers “The Wheel of Work” concept. Join Jennifer as she shows us how to propel ourselves past our natural sticking points by playing to our strengths — and enlisting help for the rest.
Overcoming Your Natural Sticking Points (Innovator’s Edition)
By Jennifer McGuiggan
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
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? Add to the Giant Pool of Wisdom by leaving your suggestions in the comments.
Jennifer McGuiggan is a professional writing, editing, and consulting services to businesses, organizations, and individuals. Read about her services at The Word Cellar and browse through her portfolio to learn more.