On Getting Started

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Hello, pal.

It’s February, and where I am, the ground is perpetually soggy and my shoes are never quite dry, and many days rumble from mid-morning to evening without ever brightening above a dull gray. These are the days where my productivity slowly grinds to a long halt, new ideas slow to a trickle, and forward motion some days feels out of reach. New Year’s resolutions start to feel laughable, like a text you sent to a crush in a moment of boldness and now seems like a really, really embarrassing idea in the harsh light of reality. All those new projects you were going to start! Didn’t you know how cold it was going to be? Why didn’t you factor in seasonal affective disorder?? You dummy!! 2019 is already a waste!!!

Okay, hold up. 

Starting new things is hard. Especially when the weather outside is gross. Give yourself a break, pal. That shame isn’t helping anyone! Why don’t you take a deep breath? 

One of the most common refrains I hear at markets goes like this:

Customer: Hey! I love your kits! I got this one at your market earlier this year!
Me: Ahh, that’s awesome! How’d it turn out? Did you have a good time?!
Customer: [suddenly embarrassed] Well. It’s sitting in the back of my closet currently, but I’m going to get around to it soon, I promise!

First of all, there’s that shame again. Useless and a real drag for whoever is carrying it. I think it comes from most folks thinking that they are alone in this inability to pick up new things and just cruise. So let me just remind you that you are not alone in this—the other day I picked up one of my more ambitious projects that I started last year to find that dust had gathered on the unfinished stitching. This is something we all share. And that’s great news! That means we can all help each other, too—we can share our experiences and our tricks that we’ve learned and built to keep us rolling on the days when it feels like we can’t. 

So I’ll start—here are the things that help me on days where my attention is scattered across the ceiling or knitted into clouds, but I really, really, wanna just start and maybe even finish a thing. If you’re one of those folks who has an unfinished or unopened kit sitting in their house under a pile of craft supplies or laundry or something, this one’s for you, pal. I get you.

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  1. Assess your goal.
    Before we even get started, let’s take a look at what you’re attempting to do. Is the size of it overwhelming you? Are you trying something new but starting at an intermediate level instead of beginner? I do this constantly—I get excited about a new project and try to run before I walk.

    An example of this in embroidery might look like someone picking a complex 7” hoop for their first ever embroidery project, instead of maybe a simple 3” hoop that feels a little bit better. Some folks are fine to take on a big project on their first go, but if the size or complexity of a project is keeping you from even starting, ask yourself if you are biting off more than you can reasonably chew. 

  2. Do some journaling.
    I used to really wish I had a Pensieve like in Harry Potter, just a nice little dish in the cupboard where I could store thoughts that are overcrowding my head and maybe come back every so often to review them from an objective angle. Then I told someone that wish out loud and as the words came out of my mouth, I realized that this thing already exists in non-magical land. It’s called a journal. If you are trying to sit down to do something but you have too many thoughts swirling around your head to focus on the task at hand, take 15-30 minutes and just write those swirly thoughts down somewhere. Get them out of your head and onto paper.

    ”I can’t take 15-30 minutes to journal! I’m supposed to be Doing The Thing!” screams your brain, which has been spending the last hour and forty five minutes flipping through the 2019 Catalog of Anxieties while you flip through apps on your phone trying to avoid those thoughts, decidedly not Doing The Thing. Listen, those 15-30 minutes are not going to throw your entire day off track at this point, I promise.

    Journaling always helps me find a little bit more clarity and clears out a little more elbow room in my headspace to move around in. It doesn’t have to be beautiful paragraphs or a certain length or quotable or well formatted. Get some of those thoughts out of your head and onto paper, and then tuck them away into a drawer. Move on to the next thing. 

  3. Put on a good playlist or audiobook.
    When I am settling in to work on something, I have pretty specific criteria for what I listen to. I found that when I would turn on Spotify radio, short playlists, or podcasts, I was getting pulled back to my phone or computer to skip songs or find a new podcast episode or playlist to listen to. Each time I picked up my phone I ended up falling down at least a ten minute rabbit hole of checking apps and text messages and waiting on feeds to refresh and then forgetting what I sat down to do in the first place.

    So I started looking for stuff to listen to that wouldn’t require so much handling. Instead of podcasts, I started listening to audiobooks. Instead of trying to use project time to discover new music, I listen to a few specifically chosen Spotify playlists that I’ve built. My favorite playlist for this is called farmer benny and it’s almost five hours long and is made up of a genre I can best describe as cute video game music. Music in video games is designed to play almost endlessly in the background, pleasant and unobtrusive, keeping the player locked into the atmosphere and tasks in the game. Run that farmer benny playlist on shuffle and let that same pleasant unobtrusiveness pull its tricks all afternoon while you get stuff done.

    If cute video game music isn’t your thing, most local libraries offer audiobook rental online or through an app. Either way, find something that you like enough to play for a long time without having to get back to the controls every few minutes to switch it up. 

  4. Break it down into smaller tasks—Don’t marathon it.
    Remind yourself that you don’t need to finish everything all at once. You can take small steps! Embroidery can take a long time, but it’s not particularly urgent either and you shouldn’t feel like it is. You can do it 15 minutes at a time, just a small creative thing every few days. You can do it in a big weekend chunk while you marathon shows you like—but you don’t have to.
    If you get overwhelmed by a time commitment, or even the idea of one, tell yourself that all you need to do is open the kit, transfer the pattern to the fabric, and then put it away. Then the next time, you can do some stitches until it’s not fun anymore, and then put it away. You might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of Making An Embroidery Piece but I bet you can handle stitching just one leaf. And then another. And then, later, another. Until it’s done. Eventually. We’re in no rush here. 

  5. Lean on your community
    I’ve learned that when I am trying to get something done, it can be really helpful to have a pal in the room with me who is also working on something and knows that I have something to do. If I need a little boost, I will invite someone over to join me in my project or just hang out in the same room as me while I work. We encourage each other, and I have a little extra accountability to stay on task. Host a low key craft night at your house and have pals bring over projects that they’re working on. It’ll be fun and you’ll feel inspired. Even if you don’t get anything done, at least you hung out with friends.

    Don’t have any friends? That’s okay. I’ve been there, you can make some new ones. My next workshop will be March 20, 2019, in Newberg, Oregon, if you can make it. I’ll be happy to be a part of your community and help you get started. If that’s something you’re interested in, find out more here.

Do you feel better and more capable? I sure hope so. I know what it feels like to feel stuck, like you want to start something but just can’t find the time or focus to do it. You can, though. It’s easier than you think. You got this.

Cara McFetridge