Pushing Past The Point of Despair

Almost every time I sit down to do some creative project—a logo design, a hand-drawn illustration, a painting, a piece of literary fiction—I come to what I like to call The Point of Despair. When my inner critic pipes up. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve heard the voice as well:

“This is pointless.”
“I’ve ruined it.”
“This isn’t turning out like I’d imagined.”

The Point of Despair is the creative equivalent to “hitting the wall,” a moment common to marathon runners, where they physically, emotionally, and mentally “run out of gas” around mile 20. Movie writers call this pivotal plot device the “All Is Lost” moment.

So what do you do when you come to The Point of Despair?

You silence the voices by keeping your feet moving. I love this quote by Vincent Van Gogh:

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” –Vincent Van Gogh

It’s really that simple. You push through The Point of Despair by continuous, repeated action. Even if all you can do is take tiny baby steps, then take them. One after another. One more step.

One more hatch mark.
One more chord.
One more line of code.
One more brushstroke.
One more pushup.
One more sales call.
One more letter on the keyboard.

Personally, I’ve found that if I just keep at it, if I put in the time and just keep noodling, eventually I summit the crest of The Point of Despair. I see sunny skies on the horizon. I look down at my artwork and I say, “You know, that actually looks pretty good!”

Before I set out on the 50-mile hike with my son’s Boy Scouts troop, my artist friend Will Terry gave me some good advice (he’s an avid outdoorsman by the way): “Slow and steady wins the race. Just like the tortoise and the hare. It’s better to move slowly and not stop, than to try and go fast and take a lot of breaks. Breaks will kill you.”

Stopping and starting, particularly huge sprints with long rests, can be detrimental to creative projects. It can be really difficult to get going again after a really long layoff.

Breaks will kill you. That’s why they’re called BREAKS.

No matter how ominous The Point of Despair looks, if you keep your feet moving you will come out on the other side. I promise.

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