Lose the first reel! Start before you’re ready

I used to be a serial procrastinator!  I admit that I still put  things off rather than do them right away, but my procrastination nowadays is subtly different to what it used to be.  Nowadays I will put off mowing the lawn, doing some DIY, writing a proposal, even writing a blog (as is evidenced by the rather sporadic timing of these posts!) but what I strive to not procrastinate over are creative ideas and experiments.

Over the last few years I’ve learnt the dramatic difference between having a creative idea and doing nothing about it because I want to think it through and plan it before executing (an example here) versus having a fuzzy, ill-thought-through spark of an idea and then doing it ASAP before I talk myself out of it (examples here and here.)   It was only through experimenting in this way that I discovered that the main thing that caused my procrastination was not logistics or resources but fear and it was only through shortening the time between idea and execution that I discovered that the actual experience was never as scary as the anticipated one.  As a result of this a mantra of mine has become “Start before you’re ready!”  A mantra that forces me to short circuit the fear-driven procrastination process and do things rather than just talk about doing them.

The Irish Film Director David Keating (“Wake Wood” 2010, “The Last of the High Kings” 1996, “Into the West” 1992) added some colour to this mantra when he told me of the term “Lose the first reel” that is used in the world of film making – a general rule of thumb that the first reel of film contains superfluous material that isn’t needed and doesn’t add very much to the final product .  “In scripts people write this whole long preamble and then something interesting happens after 10 pages.  Maybe.  If you’re lucky.  The thing is, although they do need to write those 10 pages it doesn’t mean the audience has to see them”  David told me recently.

I’ve now started using this term as a way of helping myself and others start before we are ready – turning creative ideas rapidly into action and short-circuiting the creative fear that causes us to procrastinate rather than experiment.

When we have a plan for an idea, what would happen if we were to “lose the first reel” of that plan on the basis that we probably don’t need it and it is likely only there as a habitual defence against anxiety and to delay the experimentation?  How much deeper and richer is our learning from things that we start before we are ready to start?  How can our unpreparedness actually widen our awareness and broaden the possibilities that our curious experiments might uncover?

As I have discovered many times, all we need to begin a creative experiment is an idea that excites us.  Ideas that are not well thought through or overly-planned always seem to be full of gifts that we never would have discovered had we wasted our time planning, preparing and narrowing the creative possibilities.