How To Start A Creative Project When You Don’t Know Where To Begin

The magic happens at the intersection of ideas and execution.

Let’s say you want to write a book.

But you’ve never written one before and it’s even been a while since you wrote your last college essay.

You’ve got an idea, enthusiasm, and no clue where or how to start.

Here’s what I’d recommend.

The first step to bringing any creative project to life is to recognize it requires two different elements — ideas and execution.

While these two components are related, it’s helpful to approach them separately when you start because they each require different skills and mindsets.

How To Develop Your Ideas

This is the fun part (if you can get out of your own judgy head long enough to enjoy it).

Spend an hour (or more) writing down a list of ideas related to your project.

In the example of writing a book, this could be a collection of ideas for stories, characters, settings, scenes, genres, character names, themes, and whatever else comes to mind that might be interesting.

Let your mind wander and don’t put any pressure on the idea phase — don’t judge your ideas as you write them down, just get something on paper.

(These nine habits that make it easy to come up with great ideas can get you going.)

If you need help getting into an idea-generating mindset, here’s a trick.

Write down the sentence fragment “What if…” 50 times on a piece of paper and then complete each of those sentences with questions related to your idea.

In the case of writing a book, it might look like this:

“What if…the hero was a teenager?”

“What if…the good guy was actually the bad guy?”

“What if…the story was told backwards?”

Once you’ve filled out your 50 sentence fragments, pick one that interests you and use it as a jump off point for another list of “What if’s” that relate to it.

For example, maybe that question about the good guy being the bad guy could be followed up with questions like…

“What if…the good guy only discovered his evil instincts after something terrible happened to him?”

“What if…once the good guy turned bad his challenge was to figure out a way to turn back to good?”

“What if…the good guy was actually a good girl?”

This kind of brainstorming will get you started on the right track to fleshing out and discovering valuable ideas for your project.

But that’s only half the battle.

How To Develop Your Execution

The other half of the equation is to figure out your creative process — the nuts and bolts of how to take your ideas and turn them into the thing you want to create.

In the hypothetical example of writing a book, you’d have to figure out things like how a plot works, how to develop characters, and how to come up with a title.

These are creative elements, but they’re more tactical and technical in nature than the pure creativity of the idea side of the equation.

Your ability to bring your creative project to life will hinge on your ability to figure out a way to get the work done.

How will you work? When and where will you get it done? How will you stick with it? What will it take to bring your vision to life?

Here’s one way to figure that out.

Just like you set aside time to brainstorm ideas, set aside an equal amount of time to research, learn and fine-tune your creative process.

Consume material similar to what you hope to create. Watch interviews with other creators. Research how others executed similar projects and how they approached similar challenges.

Immerse yourself in the world of any creative project you take on.

The goal isn’t to mimic what others have done, but to expose yourself to enough ideas and competing approaches that you can pick and choose the elements that work best for you.

You want to use your creative process time to educate yourself and find the inspiration you need to get your project off the ground.

And Now, The Magic…

Let’s say you commit time to the parallel paths of ideas and execution on alternating days.

Eventually, something amazing will happen — the paths will intersect.

The inspiration and knowledge you’ve acquired through studying the work of others will blend with the original creative ideas you’ve generated. Each will inform the other to take your work to a new level and bring it to life.

In our book example, that character development tactic you read about another author using may make the twist you sought for your main character apparent.

That random idea you had for an underwater scene you may now recognize is a perfect fit for an opening moment like the one that grabbed you in another book you read.

As the puzzle pieces fall into place, the divergent paths you’ve traveled converge and you realize you’re no longer trying to figure out how to start your creative project…because you already have.

Now, you just have to figure out how to finish it.

But that’s a story for another day.