Monday, 3 August 2015

52 Ordinary Words: Beginning

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!


  1. Starting projects that are never completed...I know this! Ambition and desire to know the end is a great part of my WIPs..things that I wanted to do at the time but lost interest. I don't think this is a bad was all learning.

    You made a statement in your blog.."I am not an artist"! You need to qualify this as you ARE an take lovely photos and you write! You are just not an artist in the art of drawing pictures by hand. Nothing to offer..I have to have Sophia ( and Emma!). And an ambition and desire to step out of that comfort zone. Just my thoughts!

    I may check out that course too. I am looking for something creative for over the winter!

    1. Thank you Mary. Yes, the term artist is very loaded, isn't it? I meant my ability to make good visual representations, using paper and paint, is not as good as it could be. Not very good at all, actually!

      But I am going to let go of my expectations and PLAY. I need to relax and to have no ambitions about making 'good' art; at all.

      I also need to do something that has nothing to do with screens, or words for that matter, but everything to do with getting back in touch with the ground beneath my feet.

  2. Oh, this made me think. Your self-awareness around starting but not finishing projects is wonderful. I'm sure many can relate. Paying closer attention to the preparation for the beginning does help in simplifying and choosing better. I sense that you've been paying attention to your intuition in choosing projects over the past couple of years. Your next course sounds like a good next step, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

    But then, you bring in the risk factor. Here's where we take a leap, not knowing how it will go, whether there will be any ending. I'm also the opposite to you in this regard - very careful about what I start, and determined to finish no matter what. For me, it's been a learning experience to know when to cut and run.

    1. Thank you, Kim. Leaping into the unknown is not something that unduly bothers me - providing I think I can do it (and that's usually about a frame of mind) - and I know how to cut and run. But commitment is more difficult. But I'm getting better!