10 Tips to Transform Creative Ideas Into Finished Products

By: Cathy Goodwin

Creative people tend to keep several projects going at once. But too many clients tell me, "I have a lot of half-finished works in progress. I'm pulled in three or four different directions.

"So I work hard," they continue. "And I end up with nothing to show for my efforts."

So how do you go from creative idea to tangible creation? Here are 10 tips to get started.

(1) Create a system to store future projects.

It's so frustrating. Your best ideas tend to come when you're already working on a project. You're too busy to get involved. Or you get distracted, start working with the new idea, and...now you're pulled in 2 directions with no completion dates in sight.

Experienced creatives keep a file of these ideas, either on paper, posted to an "idea board" or on a computer disk. As time goes on, you keep adding notes. Eventually some ideas take on a life of their own. Others disappear quietly.

(2) Tell a story about what would happen if you finished each project.

"Susan finished all her art projects and..."
"Jeremy finally revised his resume and sent it out to 3 companies..."

Expect to be surprised by the twists and turns of your plot line. One client resisted finishing a book because she dreaded getting a slew of rejections from agents. Another resisted applying for jobs because he dreaded spending eight hours chained to a desk.

(3) Review your motivation for finishing these projects.

Do you need to finish something to make money? If you're feeling desperate, fear may be blocking your inspiration.

But if you don't need the work, you may find yourself asking, "Why bother?" Sometimes the best answer is, "Well, maybe I shouldn't."

(4) List your top 3 goals for the next 6 months.

What do you want to complete, even if you do nothing else?

And are you a single-tasker or a multi-tasker? Some creatives need to focus on a single goal or they get hopelessly distracted. But others (including most gifted adults) define themselves as multi-taskers. They won't be happy unless they're juggling several balls in the air.

(5) Describe the audience for each project you are constructing.

As a creative professional, your job is to sort through your many ideas. Your goal is to deliver finished products that will have value for a target market.

Even if you work for love and don't care about money, you still need to deliver value. When I took pottery lessons, most of my creations created negative value: I couldn't give them away!

But you may be your own best audience. If that's the case, get very clear on what value the project delivers to you. Do you want something you can display on a wall? A symbol of your own skill? A confidence builder?

In my experience, the more abstract the reward, the more creatives have difficulty with finishing.

(6) Create a distractions list.

If your creative project is related to a computer, it's easy to begin each day by reading email, checking statistics, browsing news websites, visiting forums...and more. Make a simple, non-judgmental list of your distractions. As you become more conscious of distractions, you'll find ways to get back on track.

(7) Develop warm-up exercises.

Warm-ups can be confused with distractions. Posting to your blog can be a distraction -- or it can be a "book-to-blog" exercise, where you write in your blog until you've completed a book.

Some creatives begin by reading over drafts of previous work. Others make notes on research, draw sketches or scribble outlines. Warm-ups come by trial and error. After awhile you'll learn what gets you ready to delve into the project and what becomes a new source of distraction.

(8) Create a strong support system, even if you have to hire a consultant or coach.

As Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist's Way, the notion of solitary creativity is nothing but a stereotype. Writers, artists, business owners and professionals need opportunities to talk about their progress. They need to feel someone cares about what they are doing and believes in them.

In my experience, this lack of a support network tends to be the single greatest source of success in any field.

(9) Work in small chunks.

When you get really stuck, I advise working in small bits and pieces. Set a timer for 15 minutes a day. Write 300 words and stop.

Chunks don't carry over. You write 600 words today - you still need 300 tomorrow! Don't be surprised if you exceed your goal once you get started. If the project really fits your life, a small chunk will feel like eating potato chips: once you get started, you want to add one more...and then another.
Each piece creates inspiration.

(10) Follow your own creative work style: open or closed.

Have you ever cleared the decks for your project: you have a whole day, or even a whole weekend. So you think, "Wow - I've got all this time!" And then somehow it's evening and you haven't accomplished anything.

You've made a discovery. Open work styles don't work for you.

Some people do well when they feel they're all alone on a desert island with no rescue in sight. They like to start early and keep going till they're too exhausted to move. Others (like me) like to feel pressured. If I have a lunch date, I'll work extra hard all morning.

Bottom Line: I find projects get completed when creatives follow their own agenda in their own style. Cookie-cutter time management techniques rarely work for everyone (and some work for no one). Get the time tyrants out of your life and you'll be far more productive than you ever anticipated.

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Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., is an author, speaker and career consultant who specializes in mid-career transitions, decisions and escapes. www.midlifecareerstrategy.com Abolish your time tyrants and accomplish the good stuff: www.midlifecareerstrategy.com/timebook.html

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