starting

momentum

This week, I’d like to share an excerpt from my upcoming book, Idea to Done:

 

As the story goes, back in the day an old man sat next to a friend at a railway station, looking at a steam engine for the first time. He peered far down the tracks at the many box cars in tow and shook his head. Steam began to shoot up in the air, and the old man muttered to his friend, “They’ll never get it started.” 

But the whistle blew and the powerful engine started to slowly turn its wheels and pull the heavy load behind it. Before long, the train was gone; all that remained was a lingering cloud of smoke. 

“Well?” his friend asked, nudging the old man. 

The man shrugged. “They’ll never get it stopped.”

 

The beginning of a project is one of the toughest moments because you have little progress to back you up and a lot of work ahead of you—your momentum is at an all-time low. However, the beginning is also when you have a lot of excitement and expectation to push you onward. Think of this as your steam, slowly turning those wheels to get you chugging down the tracks.

As a project continues, momentum builds and tasks become easier. Yes, the initial excitement dwindles with the passage of time and in the presence of challenges and setbacks, but you soon will have momentum pushing you on. Excitement comes and goes, but without momentum, you’re dead in the water, cold on the tracks, a mound in the mud, as mobile as a mountain.

Momentum is motion, and motion leads to progress. No momentum, no progress. What I’m saying in so many words is momentum is a critical element for the completion of any project. The problem is, there are many things we can do to inhibit our momentum or even lose it. The fastest train will eventually stop if the engine ceases to pull it along. 

Here’s why: momentum requires maintenance.

It takes work to gain, but it also must be maintained. So what are some things you can do to build and keep your magnificent momentum?

 

  • Prioritize your workflow from easy to difficult. When it comes to order of operation, start with the simplest, easiest thing and work your way toward the more difficult and complex. If you begin with all the hardest parts, you can quickly get overwhelmed and lose the drive to continue. As you finish smaller tasks, the larger ones begin to look more feasible. 
  • Turn a task into a process whenever possible. If you find yourself repeating the same steps over and over, it’s time to make it a process. Can it be automated within a program or application? Can someone else help you with it so you can spend your time on the parts only you can do? Can you make it part of your regular routine, so you get it done quickly and save your time and energy for more demanding tasks?
  • Practice, practice, practice. Momentum comes from repetition. The more you try something, the better you will become and the more realistic your expectations will be about your next attempt. Make sure to track the results of your practice. Whether you’re learning how to bake a triple-layer wedding cake, prepping your dog for a show, or writing code for a mobile game, even a few repeated attempts can lead to great improvement—recognizing this only motivates you to continue your efforts.
  • Don’t stop. Every time you quit, it’s harder to go back. Whenever you set a project aside, you end up having to retrace your steps in order to get back to where you were. To prevent this, work on or think about your project a little every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, it will go a long way toward maintaining your momentum.

 

The magic of momentum can turn a ton of motionless steel into a speeding locomotive. Every time you check another task off your list, every time you take one more step toward the finish, you’ll have more momentum for the next push and the following one. 

Yes, momentum takes effort to gain, but it pays off big-time in the long run. Without it, you’ll feel more like a runner going against the wind with a parachute behind you—not the best way to go, unless you’re really into resistance training.

With momentum on your side, there’s just no stopping you. So get those big wheels of momentum a-turnin’ and keep your creative fuel a-burnin’.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, do you find momentum hard to build, or do you find yourself coasting once you have it? Let us know in the comments below.

 

It Begins

I find the phrase “it begins” or “so it begins” a bit ominous, don’t you? It hints at something great but also dangerous—a dramatic shift. While it may not compare to a zombie apocalypse or a technological revolution, starting a website or blog can feel that way. It’s a commitment, a risk, but also an opportunity. The same goes for any new endeavor we may embark upon.

Yes, starting something new is tough, sometimes terrifying; it can feel like the hardest thing in the world, like stepping out on a ledge over the Niagara Falls and doing a cannonball. In other words—it’s not safe. 

On the other hand (or foot), life is too short not to try new and unfamiliar things. If we don’t try, we don’t grow. Instead, we stagnate—like a mosquito-filled peat bog. Gross. 

As risky as it is to try new things, doing nothing isn’t safe either. I’d say it’s more dangerous, in fact, it can kill us—just a lot slower and more subtly. Besides, its not nearly as fun.

When we make plans to try new things, we will face the temptation to put them off until tomorrow. It’s a temptation I know all too well. The problem, as I’m sure you know, is tomorrow never comes. Today is the day to take the plunge, to dive off your safe little plank into the great unknown. It’s scary, but what a rush! And that plank you clung to was slowly rotting away anyhow.

Well, since I don’t want to get all smelly and moss-covered like a bog (or become a hotbed of large, toothy reptiles) I’m starting this site. For other reasons as well. Yes, I’ve gone back and forth on whether I even should, whether I’m really qualified to do something like this, whether I’m the right person. I’m sure you’re familiar with that nagging voice of doubt inside. At last, I decided: what the heck, the time has come, I need to do this. So here we are, let’s find out what happens next.

Another valuable lesson I’ve learned through this is the importance of accepting imperfection. It’s easy to put off doing something or finishing it until you feel it has reached a level of perfection. Problem is, perfection is pretty much unattainable, which means you’re never going to finish or even get started. As author and writing coach, David Farland has said, “You never attain perfection.  You just keep approaching it.” There are many things I wanted to do before I launched this site but just haven’t had time to implement. And that’s ok: as I work on it, the site will get better and better over time, as will you and any creative project you undertake.

 

Before we go on, there’s something I need to tell you, something about me. I’m not some guru who sits alone atop the mountain, thinking deeply and dispensing wisdom to the masses below—not even close. I struggle, get frustrated, mess up, get depressed and wrestle with doubt as much (if not more) than anyone else. I’m down there in the valley, pushing around boulders, finding my way through winding narrow paths. I’m just an average guy, nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. But that’s not entirely true. And it’s not entirely true of you, either. Because every single one of us (child, woman, man, alien or cognizant shrub) is important, everyone matters, from the lowly to the lofty.

You see, creativity often doesn’t come easy for me, nor does writing for that matter, but I don’t abandon either of them. As Thomas Mann wrote, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” I think it’s the particular difficulty, and the drive to overcome it, which makes one excel, which makes them special in a given area. To be creative is to struggle against the ordinary.

When you come down to it, no one is ordinary—not one single soul. Everyone has something to offer—a gift, the potential to change the world, but not everyone will use it. I’ve heard it said potential is perishable, so let’s not allow ours to mold like month-old pumpernickel. There is no better time to be creative, to start something fresh, to ask big questions and search for big answers than this very moment. 

If I, a regular guy (hey, I eat plenty of fiber), can do this, I know you can, no matter who (or what) you are. Will you join me for the adventure of a lifetime? Will you set out with me on the journey of the creative? Sure, there will be some setbacks, some switchbacks, some tough uphill treks, but when we crest the peak, I promise the view will make it all worthwhile.

One more thing: this isn’t about me, this site, all of it. Sure, I’ll be running the place, but it’s about something bigger than me, bigger than you. It’s about a conversation, a community. After all, any creative work we are part of should ultimately point to something else, something grand, something beyond ourselves. I hope this website is no exception.

 

To give you an idea of where this road is headed, here are some of my goals:

  • Keep it short: like it or not, people have short attention spans and creatives are often busy being creative.
  • Be practical: creativity is just as much about learning as it is about doing, I’d say with a heavier lean toward the “doing” department. Even a simple takeaway can be an important step in the process.
  • Promote thoughtfulness: you’ll have something to ponder as you go on your merry way (and hopefully you’ll return with something to offer us).
  • Entertain: a healthy person knows how to laugh and how to cry (I’m still finding the balance there). It’s easier to learn when we’re entertained. Not all entertainment brings laughter, but hopefully everything you find here, whatever the mood, will provide a measure of interest and/or amusement.
  • Be honest: it’s not easy, but it’s needed. Honesty is an important attribute, today more than ever, yet it must be balanced with integrity and respect. I hope you will find a healthy blend of the three here. I’ll share as much as I can with you about my personal life and experiences as they pertain to the topics at hand. And I’m always open to suggestions, corrections and queries.

Yes, this whole shebang is a big ol' work in progress, but hey, what isn’t?

 

I leave you with a quote I found on the little paper attached to a teabag:

 

Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.

- unknown

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, what is one thing you’ve been planning to start doing for 2017? Let us know in the comments below.