As a Psychotherapist in London, I worked with a composer once who was finding that working on his symphony was getting harder and harder. He had no ideas, so he left the manuscript rolled up in his filing cabinet, waiting for the day when he would be ‘inspired’. The problem is he completely lost touch with it. I suggested one very simple idea, which was to unroll the manuscript with a very specific intention of only looking at it. That’s all. No pressure to do anything on it at all, in fact the opposite. Don’t add anything, don't have a pencil in your hand, don’t use the rubber – just have a look at what you’ve done; say ‘hello’ to it again. He came back the following week having written fifty bars.
This idea is based on the concept of ‘paradoxical intention’ – you set out deliberately to not do something and there you go, finding yourself doing it. By ‘taking a look’ at his work, my client discovered a renewed interest in the project and because his instructions were only to reacquaint himself with it and not change anything (as opposed to knuckle down and push himself to write more), the pressure was released.
So, if you’re having trouble returning to a half-finished project on your computer or in hard copy, just find the file and open it. Read it. Have a look at it – with the inner knowledge that you do not need to do anything. Same goes for a piece of art-work, a half-finished sculpture, canvas or DIY project. You’re just looking. You might add something, you might not. Even if you don’t, you’ll probably have a few ideas associated with it. These ideas may be about noticing what’s wrong with it (or even what’s good about it), spotting obvious errors, or the decision to scrap the whole thing and start again – but something will have shifted.
My father's watercolour painting
of our back garden (he's 87 and thrives on energy and inspiration)
What the garden looks like for real