Just like characters in a story, we are all traversing our own artistic plot. We have our own conflicts and obstacles to overcome. If this were a book, we’d simply glance at the page number and see how long we have to go. Or with a movie, pause it and see how close to the end we are. But life doesn’t work that way. We have no idea how long this particular narrative will grip us.
John Gardner, author of Grendel, had this to say about plotting: “A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition, and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.” Not every story has a happy ending. Just because we want something, doesn’t mean we will attain it. It’s the struggle that matters.
Creative types can apply this idea to the projects they tackle. Yes, some of them have obvious end points. But more often than not, if it’s something you’re pouring your passion into, it can go on for months or years, with all sorts of twists and turns.
The Plot of a Creative Work
The inciting incident is the idea that springs to life in your brain. This is the starting point for the journey. There may be plenty of backstory and exposition leading up to this creative seed, but once the idea appears, you must follow it.
Executing the idea takes the bulk of your time. Like Bilbo Baggins trekking to the Lonely Mountain, this trip could take months or years. Your progress mimics the sawtooth shape of a three act story — moments of inspiration and success and areas where the project feels hopeless.
Finally, you surmount the various obstacles and reach the resolution of your work. Time to release this into the world. Maybe your idea is a winner. But just like Greek plays, not every story has a happy ending. You might end up with a draw or a loss.
Endure the Brambles
Prince Charming had to slog through a sea of brambles and thorns before reaching the castle holding Sleeping Beauty. The struggle you face as a creator is to keep going and not abandon the journey.
Instead of brambles, you are often faced with self-doubt:
- No one’s ever going to see this
- Nobody cares about what I’m doing.
- This is a huge waste of time.
- I should just give up.
How do you conquer that forest of thorny doubt?
Keep a Schedule
Just like you clock in and clock out of your regular job, do the same for your creative project. We all have bad days at the office. But we keep going because we need that paycheck. Not every time you sit down to shape your creative project is going to be a slam dunk. More often than not, your progress will seem incremental at best. But keep at it.
Embrace Negative Emotions
That feeling of worthlessness is like an anchor, dragging you down. If you ignore it, it will simply get heavier until it sinks all your creative joy.
Allow some time to feel gloomy, but give it a time limit. You can take a few days or even a week off from your project. Think of it as sick leave from your “art job”. But you must jump back into the work.
Find reviews of other popular artists and read one-star comments. Everyone, even the greats, have their haters. Jimmy Kimmel has a whole segment on this where celebrities read mean tweets.
The best way to get to the end is to realize you’re traveling through a story to begin with. We all have doubts that can paralyze us. Or those nay-sayers who like nothing more than to bring us down.
But we can’t give up.
That drawing you’ve only sketched out could be the one thing to brighten up someone’s terrible day. That second act you’re bogged down in might lead to the story that relates to one reader. That song that feels like it might never find an ending could give inspiration to someone else to create their own music.
You never know the power of your creations until you release them into the world. But first, you have to finish them.