Unless it’s been boring for a good while, then it’s probably time to dump it for something else. But I found I tend to start skimming when I’m not really focused on reading a book.
One thing that helps me fall back into a narrative or idea structure is to consciously slow down, wringing nuance and understanding from each word until I forget everything but what I’m reading. This helps re-focus, and if you’re not getting lost, metaphorically, you’re Somewhere Else.
Now apply the same principle to your work. Slow down. See if that lets you re-focus and lose yourself.
Maybe Repetition Is the Way Forward When Nothing Comes to Mind
Think of it like a generic writing practice: we’re told that we just need to keep writing. If that means writing the word “solo” over and over, so be it.
But that doesn’t last long. Thoughts come. Ideas meander. You feel like writing them down. It’s the same in other media. You can only doodle or play a C7 so many times before you’ll think how to change it. And that’s moving forward.
Too Many Choices Stops the Choosing, or, How We End Up Doing Nothing Because We Can Do Everything
The internet is the ultimate in potential for choice paralysis. Endless reading, gaming, shopping, viewing. It’s amazing and wonderful to have such bounty available. But it’s in our limitations that we find not only creative ways to solve our problems, but also a certain comfort.
When we have too many options, we spend time deciding among them. It’s time that could have been spent working on your thing, or enjoying some other art. Sometimes, the overwhelming nature of possible things to do makes us shut down and just spend our time with the familiar. Films we’ve seen a dozen times, music we could sing along to in our sleep. That’s fine. But when we say we want to try new things, it helps to have fewer options.
I don’t, unfortunately, have a consistent methodology for narrowing internet choices, but I think it’s probably worth working on, if even in a deliberate, manual, conscious way.
If you’re a painter or calligrapher, say, this is an easy one to practice. If you’re a musician or dancer, it’s harder. But there are ways to keep looking at your stuff, even if it’s a song or a performance.
You’re not doing this to leave a work in place forever. You’re doing a little study. It’s a personal gallery visit, and the assignment is to analyze this one work. It just happens to be yours, this time.
What you’re looking for is anything that keeps the work from being perfect and anything that helps it along the way. That’s a little hyperbolic–nothing is perfect—but perfection should be striven for, not achieved. And it’s nebulous: the main thing is how closely it came to the vision in your head. But you need some perspective, a little objectivity, a little time for it to breathe and live before you can see the little things.
You already probably see the mistakes you made and other choices you thought about but didn’t implement. Next time you’ll know they could have helped improve it, and some things to keep that went well.
This approach works better if you have just a little difficulty or a slight embarrassment when examining your own work than if you either want to puke from thinking it’s terrible or you think it’s brilliant, but I think those cases are rare.
More often, the art you made took a long time and you’ve spent hours, days, or weeks getting it honed, chopping it into shape. You know it well. You also can overlook the obvious.
So as you make more things, keep a fresh one handy to listen to or look at to see it as plainly as you can, to learn one more lesson from a finished thing.
The Recursion of Second Guessing When You Hesitate
Not all instances—and certainly not in art—lend themselves to quick decisions, but most often, forging ahead with decisions and paths is the best.
Hesitation and too much thinking about choices and potential outcomes can easily spiral inward in a disappointing and never-ending lack of finishing. Gut feeling doesn’t always work, but it does get you started.