I rarely experience difficulties starting anything. The same has not always been said, of my ability to finish projects. Hence my environment used to be littered with WIPs (works in progress). Periodically I would decide to either ditch them. altogether, or to make a super human effort to complete a few.
When I considered that honour had been satisfied (most of the WIPs were finished) I would allow myself to start something new. Needless to say this didn’t last long. If there was a loophole I could use to justify having several other new projects on the go, I endorsed it; and before long the quantity of WIPs had escalated; I was back where I started.
I now liken my behaviour to that of a yo-yo dieter; I was indulging in a form of cyclic comfort eating, whenever I felt tired or blue. No sooner had I satisfied a desire for the hit of instant gratification then I felt the need to start something else.
I can’t say that I’m 'cured', but several things have made a radical difference. This is one of them. About fifteen years ago I admired S’s Book Diary that she’d been keeping for over forty years. It was an impressive chronological record of her reading history. I decided to start one of my own and throughout 1997 I wrote down details of every book that I read.
I resolved that I would only record titles that I read from cover-to-cover. I was usually inclined to do this, but in order to be quite sure I now took a great deal more care when choosing to start a book, in the first place. This new habit bore fruit. By the end of 1997 I had a record of what I'd committed to finish and tangible evidence that I could regulate myself - if I really wanted to.
My Book Diary was an end product, but I had learnt something important about myself and what works for me; I had also learnt something about the importance of honouring the process that a beginning heralds. If there’s no commitment to an ending, then why finish anything... ? I now knew the quality of an ending is reflected in the quality of a beginning; the attention paid to preparation. David Whyte makes this point in his book, ‘Consolations’ when he says, “the ability to make a good beginning is an art form.”
I think this is particularly true when beginning a creative project. In her book, 'The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life', Twyla Thorp says, "In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative." She talks about rituals that bring us into the zone, whilst Whyte talks about clearing.
Whyte touches on the risks that attach to beginnings, which I find particularly pertinent. I think that for most of my life I didn’t appreciate the risk that attaches to starting something. Maybe, if I had I’d have been less inclined to dive in head-first.
I am about to start a course called Dreaming on Paper: The Creative Sketchbook, which beginning will take me well out of my comfort-zone. Indeed I feel some reluctance to start, because I have serious doubts that I will be able to do it justice – I am not an artist. There is definitely a part of me that is afraid to participate, because "I have nothing new to offer."
I’m going to have to practice Beginner’s Mind: to have an attitude of openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions!