Create or Quit? – Skinny Artist

Create or Quit?

Create or Quit

Time to create or cut bait?

Have you ever been in the middle of a project only to discover that you have completely lost your enthusiasm for it and now it seems you’re just going through the motions?

So how do you know when you should continue working on a project, and when you should just cut your losses and let it go?

It’s not easy to figure out the answer to this question, because almost every creative project hits a creative lull at some point. We all have those days where everything we do seems pointless, and whatever we’re currently working on is not good enough. So the question is not really whether or not we have felt like this, but what do we do about it when it happens?

That of course depends on who you ask…

 

Never, never, never give up… unless it’s the right thing to do

There seems to be two schools of thought on whether it’s better to stick with a project no matter what until it’s finished, or if it’s better to just move on to something else.

On one side you have the put-your-head-down-and-just-keep-going crowd, and on the other side you have the if-it’s-not-working-try-something-else group.

Those who tell us that we should continue no matter what remind us of the virtues of consistency, follow-through, and perseverance. They talk about how “real artists ship” and those who don’t stick with it are a bunch of slackers who obviously aren’t serious about their creative work. They tell us that we simply need to focus and push through “the dip” until we finally reach the other side where we can bask in the glow of our accomplishment.

Then again, there are some other very smart folks out there, like Einstein himself, who tell us that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. They preach the virtues of efficiency, productivity, and knowing when to cut your losses. They tell us when a project just isn’t working anymore, it’s better to move on and not waste any more time and energy on it.

I don’t know about you but I’m constantly struggling with this issue myself.

One week I’ll be convinced that I need to stick with my latest project that seems to be stalling out and see it to the end.  The next week, I’ll tell myself that I just need to move on because I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the project and I’m simply going through the motions. But then I’ll realize that’s exactly what whiny slackers say and a truly awesome person would stick with it until it’s finished. Then again, that’s exactly how stubborn idiots think, while smart people know when to cut their losses and move on.

So then what’s the right answer?

 

The truth is…

The truth is there isn’t one right answer because either one of these could potentially be the right thing to do depending on the situation.

If anything, the real trap here is believing that one of these is always the right answer.

In other words, it’s not any better to blindly stick with a project no matter what, then it is to constantly jump from one project to the next. There is no one size fits all solution here. Sometimes it’s better to keep going and see where things lead, and sometimes it’s better to just admit when something is not working and move on.

The trick of course is having the wisdom to know the difference.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wow, that was a pretty crappy and unhelpful answer Skinny dude.” And although it’s true that I don’t have some secret formula you can use to find the correct path in any given situation, I do have an idea where you might want to look for answers. . .

 

Doing the opposite

If you lived through the 90’s, you may remember a famous episode of Seinfeld called “The Opposite” where George suddenly decides to go against his instincts and do the opposite based on Jerry’s theory that “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

In other words, doing the opposite of what you feel like doing, may end up being the right thing to do in that particular situation.

So if you’re usually the type of person who constantly jumps from one project to the next, you might want to consider sticking with your current project a little longer and see what happens.

On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who can be a bit stubborn and sees giving up as a sign of weakness, then you may want to take another look at the value of cutting your losses and moving on when something isn’t working.

Let’s face it, it’s human nature to want to take the easy way out and we generally avoid doing anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. The author Joseph Campbell once said that “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

So when we feel like bailing on a certain project it might meant that there’s something important there we are afraid of confronting, or maybe we’re digging too close to an old emotional wound.  On the other hand, if we insist on sticking with a particular project no matter what, maybe it’s because it’s more comfortable to go through the motions and feel like we’re doing something than it is to plunge into the unknown of our next project.

There’s a reason we feel the way we do, and because of that, we have to recognize that our first instinct may not always be our best option.  We might find ourselves traveling down an uncomfortable and unfamiliar path in order to get to where we want to be.  Sometimes that may mean sticking with a certain project, and sometimes we may need to let it go.

Either way, we’ll likely discover something important about ourselves along the way.

 

What do you think?

Do you find yourself constantly jumping from one project to the next or do you usually force yourself to finish what you started?

Have you ever abandoned a project and later regretted it, or have you kept working a certain project and then wished you hadn’t wasted your time?

Does any of this really have anything to do with good decision making, or is it all just part of the creative learning process?

 

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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(8) comments

Real artists might ship, but if we aren’t growing and trying new things, we are just art producing and shipping units. Way too many artists fall in this category. Since experimenting produces failures, we need to accept failure, learn from it and try again.

That puts me in the ‘let it go’ camp. I usually know when I’ve gotten to the point in a piece where nothing will rescue it, I’m just torturing myself. It feels good to throw those things away.

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    I think you’re right Karen, there has to be some sort of balance between finishing projects (just to get them done) and having the ability to stick it out long enough to get over the inevitable rough patches. At times I think it would be nice to have a more definitive answer as to whether we should keep going or let it go, but then again, it’s probably the mystery of the creative spirit that got us into this game in the first place. So we continue to stumble our way around in the dark and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Reply

I’ve been watching this site for ages and it’s given me some wonderful advice, and great food for thought.

I’m one to jump from project to project, personally. I tend to put half finished projects in the ‘I’ll deal with you later’ category when I get to a point where I don’t know what to do with them. That category just seems to get longer and longer, and every now and then I’ll go back over them and just think ‘it’s too hard…I might as well just start something new.’ That said, I do have more finished projects than unfinished at this point in time…so I guess that means it works to some extent, for me, anyway…

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    Thank you for your kind words Karla and it’s always great to hear from you!

    I’m definitely in the “deal with you later” camp most of the time. Every once in awhile, my stubborn side will take over and I’ll finish a project just to be done with it, but most of the time I’ll put things on the back burner and let them simmer for awhile. As I mentioned to Erin in a comment on FB, sometimes I’ll come back to a particular project later and realize that it just wasn’t the right time for it before, and sometimes I’ll realize that it really was as crappy as I remember ;)

    Reply
Lolly

When I feel bad about continuing a project I stop and turn my attention to what feels a bit better. I may have an inspiration to develop it further, or may leave it alone for a few years to see what that concept was all about. If I force the finish, as I’ve had to to reach deadlines, then I may achieve a finished product, but it lacks my positive energy, and the world outside seems disappointed with it too. For me, better to love what you take action on, or leave it well alone :)

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    I think you’re right that when we are forced to complete a project either by our own sense of stubbornness or a deadline for a paying client, the finished product often lacks the same creative soul. Now maybe part of that is all in our heads because we’ve lost our enthusiasm for it, but I think there is something to be said for listening to our intuition and letting a project go even temporarily in order to let it percolate for a little longer in our subconscious mind. Thanks again for stopping by Lolly and sharing your thoughts with us!

    Reply

When I’m being paid to do an illustration job I never jump ship for obvious reasons but when I’m working on personal stuff I am completely wishy washy, to use a technical term. I’ve found that the longer I work on something the higher the chance is that I will put it aside at some point out of lack of interest or because I am unsure about if it’s good enough to finish, and yes I almost always feel bad when I do this but I work better, more confident if I have a deadline because I don’t have a lot of time to over contemplate it. There have been times when I’ve pulled out an old partly finished piece and gotten excited about it again but ended up starting it over completely because I feel like it would be too much work to fix the problems I see in it.
Ultimately I think everyone works differently and putting something aside allows you to look at it later with a fresh eye and therefore make constructive decisions about it.

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    I agree with you Toni that there is something to be said about the amount of time a particular project takes and the amount of fear and self-doubt that will eventually weasel its way into my brain. Of course when a paying customer has already agreed to take it off your hands, it’s a lot easier to keep going. However when it’s just you wrestling with a new idea or technique, I think it sometimes can be a good thing to set it aside temporarily and come back to it later. Then again, this could also explain the big pile of half-finished crap I currently have sitting beside me mocking me at this very moment ;) I do think you’re right, however, that it does often help to come back to a project with a pair of fresh (and perhaps clearer) eyes before deciding what to do.

    Reply
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