Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When inspiration runs out before the project is finished

So you were struck by inspiration, and you ran with it. Now your brilliant vampires-vs.-space aliens novel is half finished. Or you've wrapped up Act One of your clever computer-enhanced stage musical.

And then one day you sit down to work and find that your inspiration has vanished. Nothing you write seems good anymore. You can't even clearly remember why you thought this project seemed like such a great idea.

Inspiration has run out on you. It was there for a while, helping you get a huge amount of work done, but then it abruptly got bored and left. And now you're expected to finish this big project all by yourself?
Unfortunately, my experience has been that this always happens. Inspiration abandons you, or at least its brightness dims as the weeks go by. Inspiration will never carry you all the way through a big project. So what do you do when you find yourself left holding the bag?

You could just abandon the project. Don't be ashamed of admitting that a creative project failed. But if four big projects in a row fail in exactly the same way, then you really ought to try a different strategy.

You might be able to take some of the pieces you've completed and see what you can salvage for another purpose. Maybe you can turn your unfinished stage musical into a concept album. Maybe a big chunk of your novel can be reshaped into a short story.

You can take the professional approach (as discussed in yesterday's blog post) and just press ahead and finish the job. If you've already sold your project, you have no other choice. You can take heart in knowing that, even if your work isn't as good as you'd hoped, it's probably not as bad as it seems right now. But if you have to do this all the time, pushing things to completion without inspiration, your creative life will be a dreary experience. You might find yourself thinking, "I should have kept that retail job! It was more fun than this, and it paid better too!"

If the work you've done so far is good and you feel particularly stuck, you can hire a seasoned professional to help you get the work done. If there's a lot of money at stake -- if the theater is already rented and rehearsals start in two weeks -- this is the only responsible thing to do. Of course, it's tough on your ego to admit that you needed to bring in someone else to rescue your own creative project.

But the real long-term solution is to avoid getting caught in this situation in the first place. That is, plan your projects strategically, knowing that inspiration could abandon you at any point. I'll discuss this further tomorrow.

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