• Advice

How to (finally) tackle that pet project

Is it an idea for a novel, lurking around in your brain? Is it that language you’ve always wanted to learn? Is the screenplay you fantasize about completing?

Most of us have pet projects that have lain dusty in drawers – or simmering in subconsciouses – for years. We often wait for signs from the Universe to tell us that this is the day to finally start.

Consider this your sign, Internet! It’s time for YOU to finally tackle that pet project – and here are three (easy) ways to make sure you do.

Make yourself accountable

The problem with always intending to someday write that novel, take that class, learn that language is that “someday” never arrives… or at least, not at a convenient time.

You’re unlikely to find yourself sitting around, feeling idle and inspired, with no personal or professional obligations and an open calendar for months and months – and I bet even IF that happens, there’ll be something good playing on television.

The unexplored pet project is safe, comfortable – as long as you never try it, you never have to fail. Get away from your comfort zone: that’s a way to spend your life watching a lot of TV, and never learning how to paint! Turn that discomfort into action.

Make yourself accountable. Tell friends – especially those pushy, aggressive friends who never let things go – about your plans. Build yourself a deadline for a first draft or a first trip – and again, TELL people about it!

Ask for peer pressure! Heck, I’ve even written checks to friends and told them to cash ‘em if I don’t meet a personal deadline: it’s a stringent motivation.

Spending money is also a good way to get yourself kicked into gear: purchase a class or coaching sessions related to your pet project. Buying expensive equipment is okay, but who hasn’t dropped a bunch of money on paints or books or instruments, only to let them grow dusty in a corner?

You want accountability, and that means more than a one-time, static purchase. The combination of social pressure, structure, and investment that you find in a class (or coach) may be just enough to push you into beginning your project.

Build a habit

If you’re trying to finish (or start) a pet project, feel no shame! You’re not alone. Most of us have some unrealized ambition lurking in the back of our minds. But many of us get intimidated and avoidant when we allow ourselves to focus on the scope of our ambition.

A language takes so long to learn, a novel takes so long to write, a movie is so expensive to make – all of our fears and doubts come crashing upon us, when we picture the road ahead!

Resist this large-scale thinking; you know your ultimate goal. Now, build a habit.

Back in school, they didn’t teach pint-sized you how to read by plopping War and Peace in front of you! Instead, you slowly, painstakingly began forming each letter and learning what it meant. You developed a habit of piecing together words. You read sentences, then paragraphs, then little books. Now you may indeed read great whomping novels – but first you had to develop a habit of reading and retention.

Don’t focus too much on the end result. Instead, focus on building a habit. If your pet project is running a marathon, begin running regularly. Slowly build up your miles. If you’re writing a novel, set aside a few hours a week just to write – don’t focus on page count, yet. If you’re learning a new language, devote time to an online course or real-time practice.

Build the habit, and stick to it. It won’t be glamorous at first; it may not even be fun. Push through your discomfort. From the foundations of such small, consistent habits, even the most ambitious projects are realized.

Don’t judge

This is the most important step towards tackling your pet project: Resist judgment.

When you’re just beginning to paint, or write, or compose, it’s easy to pause early in the process, take a look at what you’ve just done… and despair. That novel will never be any good, that poem will never scan, that sculpture is clumsy and ugly.

But when you allow yourself to judge too early and too often, you rob yourself of any chance to actually build. You can always make improvements later on – first, try to get your project closer to completion. Most of us often develop pretty terrible first, second, and third drafts, especially when we’re learning; the difference is that some people are too bull-headed to give up! Be that bull-headed person.

There will be time enough for judgment when you’re done (or almost done). Let go of the end result, and attempt to lose yourself in the process. You’re creating a practice and building skills. Even if your novel/poem/song just becomes a bad draft, you’ll learn something from it!

Treat yourself as you would treat a child who is learning and growing: be patient, compassionate, and encouraging. There will be time enough for evaluation later on.

Life is short! Don’t let that project wallow in a drawer; don’t spend years wishing you had just learned that skill. Now is the time. This is your sign!

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.