How to Choose Your Next Creative Project
As a creative person, there are times when you hit a roadblock. You feel paralyzed, unable to make a decision about what project to do next. You may have lots of ideas, but you’re afraid to commit to anything because you don’t want to make the wrong decision.
My friend Mark Revisky sent in a question that echoes this struggle. He wrote,
I am at a creative roadblock. I have completed my memoir and a play, but I don’t know what to do next. A book, another play, a fictional story? How do I find a direction to go?
Mark, I feel your pain! This is an area where I have struggled quite a bit over the years. I imagine everyone reading this has struggled with it as well.
The problem with being a creative person is that, by nature, your interests are constantly shifting and growing. A creative person wants to meet new people, enjoy new experiences, and absorb new ideas through books and podcasts. This is a good thing!
But when you’re talking about committing to a project that requires months or even years or devotion, you need more than just a passing interest or an emotional lift from something new. You need a more objective way to decide what to focus on.
I would suggest four “filters” you can use to help you choose your next creative project. I’m not suggesting that each project has to meet all four criteria. However, these are great signposts that tell us we’re headed in the right direction.
1. What are you passionate about?
I once invested a sizable amount of money into a side business I thought would give me a great return. I had friends who were making the equivalent of a full-time income within a year after joining.
But a few weeks after joining the company, I realized I had made a mistake and the business was probably going to be a huge failure. (I go into more detail about the failure in this post.)
The reason? I wasn’t passionate about the company. I loved the products, but I didn’t want to be a salesman. I only joined because I thought it would be a good way to quickly make a side income.
I also underestimated the time and skills it would require, and didn’t consider whether it meshed with my interests and personality. (Dumb mistake, I know. Lesson learned.)
Don’t pursue a creative project just because you think it will help you make money or give you a shortcut to success. It will only be a dead end.
Instead, spend your time on the projects that are closest to your heart.
2. What will help you achieve your goals?
This is a good time to revisit your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? If you’re trying to build an audience and start a business, focus on the things that will move you closer to the goal.
The nature of creative people is that they constantly have new ideas and get easily bored with old ones. But you can’t get distracted by “squirrels” that aren’t going to help you achieve your goals.
3. What will help other people?
You might have a great idea for a book, blog, course, story, podcast, or some other type of content. But if it doesn’t meet a need or provide value for your audience, it won’t get very far.
This is especially important if you’re trying to build an income through your creative work. Make sure your creative work brings value to people, whether it’s bringing joy and entertainment, or solving a problem of some kind.
4. What is your audience asking for?
Do you have a blog, an email list, or followers/fans on social media? Then you have an audience. You may have already gotten feedback from people about something they want you to do. If so, that’s a great clue to your future direction.
For example, Mark asked a question that prompted this blog post. The chances are pretty good that if one person has a question, others have the same question. This is why getting feedback from people is so important.
If you have a Facebook group, email list, or some other type of audience, put together a survey and ask a few questions about their interests, frustrations, and what type of products they would like to see. You might be surprised at the results.
For example, every year I ask my blog readers to take a survey. I am always surprised at some of the responses. I have learned never to assume what my audience wants. It’s much better to ask.
Even if you don’t have an audience now, you have a potential audience. Think about the type of person you’re trying to reach with your art or creative work. Start with a few people who fit that profile and ask them what their biggest problems are. You will likely get some great feedback that will point to potential projects that meet people’s needs.
The point is not to just rely on your intuition or gut feelings about what people will like. It’s much better to use data to help you make a decision. You don’t have to follow it, but at least you’ll have a clear idea of what other people might like.
When projects don’t make the cut
What happens when you have projects you’re working on that don’t meet these criteria? Think long and hard about whether you should continue to invest time, money, or energy into these projects. It’s hard to kill your darlings, but sometimes you need to make difficult decisions about how to invest your time and resources.
That said, sometimes you need to take a risk and just try something. People don’t always know what they want until they see it. For example, no one was asking for a rap-based musical based on the life of a Founding Father. But when “Hamilton” came into the world, people went nuts because it was so awesome.
If you try something and it fails to connect with people, so what? You’ve learned some valuable lessons and can use the seeds of that failure to grow your next (and better) project. No creative effort is ever wasted.
In the next post, I will put these four filters to the test and explain how I used them to decide on my next book.
How about you? How do you decide what creative projects to focus on?