Follow Through on Projects by Starting the Right Way

Follow Through on Projects by Starting the Right Way

If you’re like me, you have a terrrrrrible time following through on projects. I don’t know what it is about us creative types, but we’re just really really bad at finishing what we start.

Unless “what we start” has 4,000 calories and you’re only supposed to eat 1/32 of it. In which case, bring on the finish line. We’re going strong.

Projects, though?

Mmmmnot so much.

If you want to make sure you are able to follow through on projects, you need a mindset change. Let’s talk about that.

Here’s What a Normal Project Beginning Looks Like …

Bring out the brass band, because something VERY EXCITING has just happened!

You have a project idea.

You’re ready to launch the world’s best and coolest blog.

The most amazing conceit for a novel has visited you in the night, tiptoeing on catlike paws across your bedroom floor to whisper in your ear and fill you with absolute, utter joy and certainty in the perfection of your concept and Everything That Is You. For that sleepy 15 minutes at 3 a.m., all is right with your world and always, always will be, because you are the shining-est example of brilliance and wisdom the gods have ever created.

Until the next morning, that is. When you wake up and realize you are nothing, you have nothing, you’ll never amount to nothing. (Although you do have a sudden love of Cockney double negatives, so there’s that.)

Uh oh … this is starting to look a lot like Yet Another Project You’re Going to Quit. You’re not going to do that, right? You know not to do that.

So you don’t. You’re determined. You’re sure that with the right combination of strength and chutzpah, you can totally do this.

So you begin.

And that’s your first mistake.

If You Want to Follow Through on Projects, You Can’t Leap Before You Look

Nothing is more exciting than embarking on a new project the moment you have the first glittering glimmerings of an idea. You’ve started! You’re so awesome! You are really and truly doing this!

But after a few hours or a few days, the “doing this” has not much progressed, and you find yourself sort of flailing around in a puddle of melted creativity, wondering where all that wonderment went.

Now, this isn’t rocket science, and I don’t pretend it to be. (Seriously, nowhere in this post did I say, “This is rocket science.” So don’t say you weren’t warned.) But it is something too few creatives fail to actually think through:

What does it mean to start a project? What is it going to require of me? What is it going to cost? Where will it challenge me, and where along the way am I likely to want to give up?

These questions are sooooo boring to face, so frightening to answer, and generally so unpleasant and bleh that we just ignore them. We’ll figure it out, right?

But ask yourself: Why are you reading a post on creative procrastination? Is it because you’ve “figured this out”? Probably not. Chances are you, like me, have started endeavor after endeavor, only to fail because you haven’t set yourself up for success properly. So do yourself a favor and step back from your enthusiasm for a moment. Give yourself the space to consider what it means to launch properly.

Follow Through on Projects by Launching Smart

Here is what an improper launch looks like:

You wake up with a bright idea. You sail away on Cloud 9, flapping happily up toward Creative Heaven. You are just so delighted by the fluffy clouds! The soft music! The paradisiacal state of peace in your soul! Brad Pitt and Anne Patchett sharing responsibilities as your mentor!

This approach is not going to work for following through on projects. It is going to fail, and hard, because no artist/writer/what-have-you spends the majority of their time in Creative Heaven.


No matter how euphoric your launch, you’ll soon enough dive-bomb right back down into Creative Hell. I mean, that’s neutral drive for us innovators and storytellers. That’s where we spend the majority of our time, plain and simple. There’s no avoiding it, and if we’re not tough enough to face it, if we don’t use realistic techniques to follow through on projects … well, we’re hosed.

Because if you don’t quit when you begin, you’ll quit soon after.

How about we opt for a proper launch instead? Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Carefully considering the validity of your idea
  2. Gathering your resources (Like a recipe! Make sure you have that baking powder before you start a-mixin’!)
  3. Making a rough plan for how you’ll approach this project
  4. Getting started while you still care about the idea

As in, now.

But not before you do those other things.

Make Things Happen with Intentional Planning

While it might seem counter to the soul of creativity, intentional planning is actually the way to preserve your motivation and momentum. If you have a well-thought-out roadmap, then not only will you start with energy and enthusiasm high, you’ll have something to which to return later in the process, when abandonment starts to look like a better and better prospect. This is such a better way to launch than digging right into Chapter One of Your YA That Will Change the World.

I mean, we’ve all seen where that goes. Starting at Chapter One the morning following your 3 a.m. flash of genius almost never pans out. I’ll say it again: That’s not a smart launch. It’s barely even a launch. Really it’s just you sitting down at your dining room table with your laptop, having fun.

Which is great, it really is. But it really isn’t a good way to write a novel that you will see through to the end, rework, edit, show to beta readers, pitch to agents, self-publish or otherwise give the best chance all around.

You need vision to the end. Not vision that lasts only as long as your kickass opening line.*

Want to Follow Through on a Project? Keep It Quiet

And while we’re on the subject, can we all just get over the idea that the word “launch” means announcing your ingenious creation to the public? While accountability measures have become, like, so totally a thing in the last few years, this is probably the worst idea for you.

Believe it or not, studies have shown for almost a century that sharing your vision with the world gives you just enough feeling of warm and fuzzy success to deplete your motivation and give you permission to rest on your laurels. Yes … even though you haven’t done anything, yet.

Curse you, brain. No wonder we’re such easy targets for procrastination, right?

That doesn’t mean don’t tell anyone. Personally, I tell my husband everything, poor man. And I tell my parents a lot too, as well as a few creative friends. But my days of shouting my plans from the rooftops are, thankfully, mostly over. That just doesn’t make good entrepreneurial sense, so I don’t do it anymore.

Instead, I just gird my loins and go for it, quietly, on my own time. I’ve started to take stock before I begin, prepare for the despair and despondence that accompany the act of creating, make a plan, and keep it to myself. That’s it.

Start Smart, Follow Through. Simple As That

This might seem a little too simplistic, but I PROMISE YOU it’s not. Such a huge part of creative failure is the omission of just a little bit of due diligence that comes with a smart launch.

If you’re an artist, do your market research before you launch your Etsy site. If you’re a novelist hopeful, buy First Draft in 30 Days. (It’s glorious.) If you’re an interior decorator going solo, spend a few minutes thinking about where your clients are going to come from before you slap up your website and give your notice.

With your resources in hand, it’s time to make a roadmap. We writers can and should plot out on which days we will write which chapters. Roadmaps are commitment devices, and you should put them in place before you start, not “see how it goes.”

That’s it: Vet. Gather resources. Plan your route. Strike while the iron is hot.

Do it, and watch your chances of following through soar.

In the meantime, why not check out the Free Resource Library? You’ll find lots of resources to help you start that novel, launch that copywriting business or generally rock at writing life. Just go ahead and click the image below and you’ll be taken right there! Like a time machine. But better.

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