"Don't Think. Jump." | Advice on Taking a Creative Plunge
“Don’t think, jump.”
That is what a teenage boy said to me as I peeked over the edge of a seemingly-high cliff into the icy blue water of Lake Superior. Him and his friend had been doing flips and all sorts of acrobatic leaps the whole morning while my friend and I looked on, deciding if our 13-year-old selves had the guts to join. We bucked up our courage and somehow I found myself on the edge of that rock, looking back at the boy’s crooked smile and again he urged, “Don’t think! Just jump!” So I did. The water was bone-numbingly freezing and completely exhilarating. I felt so proud of myself that I kept hearing those words ringing in my ears for the rest of our Grand Marais vacation that summer.
I look back on that memory now because once again, the same advice has come up, but in a completely different context. I have been asked recently, and subsequently asked myself, how one goes about starting a creative project or pursuit. I wrote a little bit about this subject a while back, but didn’t quite get into the heart of the matter. The truth is, while I have in fact began and completed a fair amount of projects over the past several years, I do not consider myself a particularly good starter. I need a push. That encouragement to stop thinking and just jump into a deep, exhilarating lake full of possibilities.
The issue I tend to have is that I love to plan. I could spend hours making lists, scribbling word clouds and thought maps, organizing objects and ideas perfectly on paper. I love gathering resources and placing them just so in neat little boxes for future projects. The key word there is future, letting myself forget that the best time to start anything is usually immediately in that moment. To take the first step into your creative pursuit, you have to trust that you have the tools you will need, or in the worst case scenario you can pick them up along the way. The point is that you have enough. You are enough to take the leap.
While planning and organizing can be an important step of the process, I think part of the reason I get stuck in that space is the natural self-doubt that starts to creep in. What if this project fails? What if no one cares? The more we sit there planning, doubting, and letting fear lead the way, the more stuck inside of ourselves we will become and those creative pursuits will never see the light of day.
I suppose I am fairly confident in talking about this subject because I have successfully been able to start up my own choreography projects and performances and have seen the majority of them through to completion. Dance, being my main pursuit, is something in which I have (mostly) learned to conquer my fears and keep pushing on into each new project. I don’t think about it too much anymore- I just jump, trusting my instincts.
However, with lesser known mediums, I still need to take my own advice. I have been talking about starting a particular new project for over a year now- a podcast. I have brainstormed, written pages full of notes and ideas, interview questions and lists of people to get on board, but I still have yet to take that leap and actually do the thing. In order to inspire myself, I gathered together some reminders — yes, another list — in the hopes that I can finally close my eyes and jump right in.
Advice for taking the creative plunge:
-Hold yourself accountable by telling people around you about your project. Now this doesn’t work for everyone. I do know some people close to me who prefer to keep their ideas and ambitions private because it is just how they function. For me, however, getting an idea out in the open by talking about it with friends, family and trusted peers helps to make it feel more tangible. Not only that, but you are then forming the base of a community that can check up on you. I have a friend that still periodically texts me asking, “so how is that podcast going?” I need a real answer for her soon, instead of a string of excuses. Which then leads me to…
-Refuse to put up with your own excuses. I keep saying that I haven’t started my podcast yet because I don’t have a high-quality microphone. Is that really the reason, or is it the doubt in myself that is trying to cling on to any reason to delay? Most likely the latter, and honestly I have listened to quite a few podcasts with laptop quality sound and as long as I am enjoying the content, I don’t usually mind. Do not listen to your own excuses. Listen to where they are coming from, say hello to your self-doubt, shake its hand and keep moving forward anyway.
-Give yourself deadlines. Even if this is a completely self-imposed solo creative project with no other stake in it than your own dedication, that is enough to enforce a strict due date. Be your own teacher, handing out homework assignments with no extensions. I go more into detail on the subject in this old essay.
-Read books about other people who took creative leaps of faith. I always find that reading about inspiring people motivates me to aspire to become a better version of my creative self. Some of my go-to books for that push off of the cliff are The Creative Habit, Women at Work, In the Company of Women, and Bird by Bird (about writing, but definitely not just for writers).
-Make friends with failure. Accept that not every leap is going to land smoothly. Some ideas don’t pan out the way you planned and that is truly okay. You learn from it, pick yourself up, and go run off in a new direction to find a different cliff.
And of course, the most important advice, given 13 years ago by a teenage boy from Grand Marais, Minnesota:
Don’t think. Jump.