Sometimes finishing is easy, like eating a mini cupcake or a bite-sized candy bar. But what if it’s something you really don’t want to do? As an artist there are things we like to create and things we don’t, whether as a whole or just little steps on the way. You have to prep a canvas before you paint. You have to thread the sewing machine before you sew. You have to smell the cheese before you eat it. (Maybe not, but it’s worth the extra time.)
Salt Lake City, Utah is one of the top wedding capitals of the world. This means that hobbyist photographers–and we have many here–looking to get their foot into the professional wedding market will gladly photograph an entire wedding for little to no payment. (I wish I was kidding.) This means that professionals already in the market who want to stay in the market really have to want it.
As I worked late into the night for a week after my first wedding I credited my anxiety to inexperience. After my second I blamed my workflow and made adjustments. As I banged my head on my desk after the third I made a decision: no more weddings. While they pay more than portraits, they also produce a disproportionate amount of imagery to process. What began as an exploration of artistic potential had turned into a neck-breaking glance back and forth between images and clock wondering if it would EVER end.
When it finally did end and the clouds of exhaustion lifted I realized the reason I was drawn to weddings wasn’t for the festivities themselves. It was the quiet beauty of a bride contemplating her wedding day, and the intimacy between bride and groom that created the naturally compelling imagery I loved to capture.
When I booked a fourth wedding most recently for a family I’m fiercely loyal to, I knew it would take more than metaphorical brute force to get to the finish line. I was going on a bear hunt.
GOING ON A BEAR HUNT
The children’s story, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, mentions various obstacles along the way to hunting a bear. There are variations, but the basic pattern goes like this:
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go around it,
We’ll have to go through it.
As an artist, you’re that bear hunter. If you’re stuck on a project, or are about to jump into a project that you know could get you stuck, whether one step or a whole, here are some tips to help you finish no matter what.
Roadblock: Unavoidable Resistance
Milestone: A Stage in Development
You can take all the back roads you want, but eventually you’ll hit an obstacle with no alternative except to soldier on. For me, this obstacle is avoidance. You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You just have to go through it. (“Right after I finish this other project…”)
Because avoidance is my vice when it comes to things I don’t want to do, I try to get everything else done that I know distract me before the project happens. Dirty dishes in the sink, laundry to wash and fold, sewing projects put away, emails all answered, etc. Doing those things before initiating the project they could distract me from leaves nothing to “avoid” with.
Finishing tedious projects is hard. Give yourself a reward to work for. When working on a project I’m not overly passionate about, I plan a new project so enticing and exciting that it drives me to finish my current one faster in order to begin the next.
Turning Roadblocks into a Milestones
The key to turning a roadblock into a milestone is remembering and learning from the effort it took to get past it. Mistakes and successes are both great teachers. For that I recommend something that works for me:
Keep a journey journal.
Call it what you want, just keep notes from those times you hit and conquered–or didn’t conquer–a creative roadblock. Before a difficult project I reference a list I keep of things that distract me so that during the “plan ahead” step I can outsmart that sneaky voice of avoidance in my head (“Did you vacuum the car recently?”). After a difficult project I jot down things that could matter should this roadblock appear again. For example, how good did it feel when you finally finished that really hard thing you did once? What about that experience makes you willing or unwilling to put yourself into this situation again? Remind yourself why doing this project was–or wasn’t–worth it.
I finished that wedding with a genuine smile on my face. Whatever your project, whatever your goals, you can turn your roadblocks into milestones. Just think like that bear hunter. (And maybe eat a cupcake.)
You can check out Wendy’s work on her blog.