When Working On Your Projects Feels Horribly Painful…

When Working On Your Projects Feels Horribly Painful…

Written by Emilie

Topics: Creativity

I’m writing an original television pilot script right now. I’m on draft #2 after my dear filmmaker friend (whose storytelling skills I completely trust) gave me copious amounts of feedback.

It wasn’t exactly negative feedback, per se… But he did prompt me to really think about my choices. Does the very first scene represent the central theme of the show? Does each scene in the episode have a purpose? Is the final scene compelling enough to make you skip ahead to episode two?

I had to admit that the answer in all of these cases was no.

I know intellectually that “writing is re-writing” and that you need to “kill all your darlings” or whatever. But I really liked my first draft. I worked hard on it.

Was it the best it could be? No, clearly not. Will I need to cut the hilarious scene where the 16-year-old main character is teaching herself to play a Bikini Kill song on the guitar when her mom knocks on her door to ask if she wants to join her to watch a documentary about Slovakian gypsies? Sadly, maybe.


After receiving the feedback, I spent a couple weeks away from the project, silently cursing all of the amazing television writing out there.

Atypical? NO. A show that good can’t exist.

The Chi? How can every scene flow so naturally and simultaneously surprise you in the most delightful way? Grumblegrumblegrumble.

Beneath this negativity was a fear. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do what my friend was asking of me–that I didn’t have it in me to write a really good script. Or maybe that I didn’t have the willpower. That, perhaps, scared me more.

Finally, a few weeks later, I sat down and took a stab at draft #2. It was slow at first. I kept feeling constrained by what I had written before. When you replace a scene with a new scene, that new scene sometimes leads you to a new place and the old next scene no longer fits. Then you find yourself re-writing the whole script because none of the old scenes are quite right anymore. And of course, you have no assurance that the scenes you’re writing now are going to stick. You might end up scrapping them later for something better.

It’s infuriating and terrifying.

But as I continued pushing forward, I began remembering something… This process is also also kind of fun.

It’s actually REALLY FUN!

Somehow, I had forgotten.

I think this happens to us a lot. We feel resistance toward a project, particularly a project that is personally meaningful. We might feel a sense of dread, fear, self-doubt, etc. and we think that working on the project will be horribly painful.

And it is painful at first.

But once we get into it, we often start having fun, because solving creative challenges is satisfying!

And we’re like: holy shit! I forgot how fun this is.

However, the next time we sit down to work on our project, we’re back at square one. We feel that aching feeling inside and we don’t want to do it. Working on our project sounds like the worst thing ever. It’s as though our memory went blank. We completely forget about how fun it is.

It’s wild, huh? But I guess that’s Resistance for you.

I try to remind myself that something can be both super challenging and fun. In fact, it’s overcoming the challenges that makes it fun. You can’t get that kind of satisfaction from doing easy things like messing around on Facebook or even repeating work you’ve done a million times and could do in your sleep. Remembering this doesn’t make the Resistance go away, but it helps me move through it.

A timer helps, too.

Sometimes I’ll set a timer for 5 minutes and just go nuts. At the end of the 5 minutes, I can stop writing if I want. But I’m usually “in it” by then and I’ll want to keep going.

So, here’s where I’m at now: I’ve re-written the first five scenes of my script and I’m continuing on, slowly. The new scenes are very different from the first draft. I have no idea if my new stuff will stick and I’m trying not to worry too much about that and just move forward.

I’m also trying not to get discouraged by good television writing. That’s silly. Better to be inspired by it. (Still, it is sooo painful sometimes how good it can be!).

I said I’m trying. :)

So, yeah. I’m both slogging and soaring my way through the second draft right now. I’m not sure how that can be, but apparently it’s possible.

Your Turn

Do you ever feel intimidated by your projects, particularly the ones that are both meaningful and hard? How do you proceed anyway?

Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike and The Puttytribe, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is the author of How to Be Everything (HarperCollins). Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. Maria says:

    This blog post coming now is such good timing for me. I’m just about to really jump into my new business idea and it’s so so scary because I know how much it means to me. I keep imagining how gutting it would feel if I realised it just wasn’t going to work out for me. I know that my first draft of the idea will need a LOT of work or even be thrown out completely but I’m just trying to get the gumption up to be able to listen to useful constructive feedback without my brain telling me “see, told you it wasn’t going to work.” ARGH!

    Also, it sounds so cool what you’re doing right now. Go for it, yeah! Thanks so much for writing the post.

  2. Felicity says:

    Good timing for me as well! I’ve been putting off finishing up an Android app for God knows what reason. Probably a mixture of not wanting to slog through the implementation after I designed the mockups, and also being afraid I wouldn’t finish it by my self-imposed deadline. Of course the obvious answer to being afraid of missing a deadline is to procrastinate until the very last minute!

    The other day I actually wrote out all the steps needed to finish the app, and I assigned an “effort” number to each step. It started to make me really realize how much putting off tasks for even a day could royally mess up my schedule and probability of completing the app on time. So far so good…we’ll see when next week rolls around…

    • Daniel says:

      I like your technique! Listing the tasks and giving difficulty ratings to know if I have time for it depending on the rating. Easy way to see my way to it. I’ll try it. Thanks!

  3. Riccardo says:

    I have several goals at the moment: build a personal business which allowed me for a more mobilr lifestyle, really push through in my meditation practice, better my health, body and.my relationships.
    Funnily enough, these projects often end up more undone than those I care less for: keeping up at a job I do not really feel excited about, duties and so on. True is, I also do feel immense satisfaction from HARD WORK. It’s a double bind that the harder the work, the greater the satisfaction. To be honest, reading it now makes it seem obvious.

    Thanks for the useful piece and inspiration


  4. Donna says:

    ‘…without my brain telling me “see, told you it wasn’t going to work” ARGH!’
    Yes, every freaking time. That Resistance is a slippery tricky creature.

  5. Liz says:

    This is so true and also coming at such a great time for me! This happens to me constantly as I move from one creative hobby to another or even if I’m focusing on one thing at a time. I’ll dread going into the city to take pictures or picking up a pencil to draw or trying to work on my website design. But once I’m doing it, I always love it and it brings me so much joy. I guess the trick is usually just to force yourself past that first part and just do it. And the whole redoing the script is kind of similar to designing a website – you decide to change one thing on the home page and all of a sudden you’ve got a completely new idea and have to scrap most of your progress. Overall though, it’s worth it because it’s what I enjoy! Just wish the initial dread could go away. Thank you for your post!

  6. Gabe says:

    So good. This reminds me of an amazing book I just read on Resistance by Stephen Pressfield: The War of Art. Fabulous. I recommend it to all fellow multipotentialites.

  7. Will says:

    This post was just so very helpful. I’m building a timber-framed tiny house. I’m so nervous (I am not a pro carpenter, etc.). Objectively, it’s not that frightening a project, it’s just that “no one” builds that way locally (so all the feedback from people around me is skewed toward the customary way to frame and build). So I hear “told you it wasn’t going to work” sometimes. Ouch.
    Your words, “It will get easier as you go”, really helped. Thank you, Emilie, for being wonderful!

  8. aselniczka says:

    Hah! Last autumn I went through a heartbreak and slided down to some depressive states (still struggling, but feeling much better now). At the same time I had an assignment at work – a report on an area I was signed as a leader. It was a first for me. I had whirlpools of thoughts, many times I was just sitting in front of the computer screen with tears rolling down on my face. I told my boss (a golden woman, for realz!) that I just started taking antidepressants and that I am unable to do any significant work for some time. She said that it’s ok, my assignment is not very time sensitive and that I need to take care of myself. (GOLDEN! GOLDEN WOMAN, I TELL YOU!) After my moods got a bit balanced, I found this crippling fear of failing and – yes – this resistance of continuing the work. But once I got myself into that, I finished the report and it appeared that it was quite well written. (It’s not that common at my work place…) And yes, it was KINDA fun. Putting this all together and pulling out conclusions (“The project cannot be finished before 2020”..) was very satisfying.
    I find it especially difficult when an assignment takes long to finish. Or if I have to do the exact same thing for more than couple of times, without needing to figure out some problems. On the other hand, I don’t mind doing thoughtless, dull work that is somehow significant (but it might have something to do with my fear of responsibility..)
    Now I’m struggling with plywood earrings – it seams that I cannot finish even one pair – as if only some of the steps give me satisfaction. I keep on going, especially that I have new ideas how to make it better, but I’m thinking of taking a step back, leave it for some time and return later. Sometimes it works.

  9. Mel says:

    I have started a project of my life late last year. The project is to write and compose songs based on my life experiences. See, for the last two years I have been living in in a van as I was searching for what it really is that I wanted to do. 2 years of having a time of my own in a Van gave that time to think. It was too much time to think actually. But it took a lot of hardships , helping hands, lightbulb moments, unexplained connections with the right people and divine interventions until it finally dawned over me at a summer concert of my favorite childhood artist. The highlight of my summer 2017. Since then I wrote 5 songs. Now, I am stuck. I blamed it on my surroundings and having to share in an apartment with a family. Blamed it on “no time for me to be alone anymore”. But you are right. I have a lot of fears. I have a lot of self doubt. It was real moments when i started my first song. I was able to write it in one sitting = pretty much all day. But I prayed, meditated and asked for it and then in happened. After my 5th song, I started feeling that my songs are not good enough. That I was silly to think I can be this person who writes and composes songs. I still have the yearnings inside. It screams at me everyday to write. But everytime i do, i get distracted with other things or i try to write something good. I aim for good. OUT OF FEAR.
    Thank you for posting this! Like you I will also try. We can do this multipotentialites! Thanks Emilie.
    P.s. I have to get a copy of your book.

  10. PowerMechGuy says:

    I feel it everyday all day for various reasons. It’s was always a long difficult path in the beginning. But now, after a couple years of just pushing through, my successes are much more frequent.

    I think the hardest part sometimes is re-inspiring yourself when your will has gone on break.

    I’ve been working on building a remote control vehicle for at least 3 years. In the last weak, I made more progress than I have ever made. The hardest part was convincing myself that even though I have failed and run out of time more times than I can count, It was still worth another shot.

    I went from spending days debugging errors to long pieces of code working on the first run.

    If at first you don’t succeed, try; try again.

    I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not been strong enough to keep trying while the going was rough.

  11. Gabi says:

    You have inspired me! So…. Maybe I will give a try at getting my blog going again. It is in support of my side biz but has been the really hard part! Even though I actually love writing. Since I have a full time job and children I have been giving myself permission to go slow on the side gig, otherwise, burnout becomes a daily problem. It is very slow and very hard to keep going sometimes.

  12. Daniel says:

    Oh boy, I’m in it. The Resistance. I left a contract job last year to “write a book”. Had enough $ put aside to make it 3 months. It’s … calculating … almost 8 months later and I have a detailed outline and the introduction finished.

    And of course I read all about how I should have a blog and social media to support it. So I also took time in those first three months to learn all (ha!) about SMM and wrote three good articles for the blog.

    Then ran out of money and had to start freelancing. Think there’s time/energy left for the book? Especially since I had the draft of the book and everything mindmapped out and could See the entire thing through to the end?

    Most of us Multipotentialites know the result of *that* – Nothing. Emily, you’ve written about once we See the grand picture of a creative idea, we’re done with it. We don’t need to have it come into being because in our creative-building minds, we can easily walk away from it, satisfied. Fits me to a tee.

    Back when I was a successful commercial photographer and I had a client’s product shot (usually food) all set up, lit, and camera loaded, I was done with the shot. The temptation was to then have my assistant expose the film and have it processed. I didnt even need to see the film afterwards. I was done with it once I figured it out.

    But I really do need to finish the book because it’s a worthwhile project and besides, I told everyone I was *leaving my job* to write book!

    So now I’m still freelancing and trying to create a discipline of writing every morning at least my thoughts on the subject. I will certainly *try* your suggestion.

    I’ll make sure to update this when I’ve actually been successful.

    Thanks SO much for your voice, your hard work and dedication to us all, Emily! Yes, I’ve come home.

    PS: The book is Ten Seconds To Consider. Based on the premise that most Conscious Acts of Consideration take Ten Seconds or Less to complete or be instigated. The many benefits of Consideration can be cultivated and we can gain muscle strength in the awareness and implementation of it.

  13. Kristina says:

    oh boy, this is so me, but first: You go, Emilie! You are gorgeous and I root for you! You may not know me, but I believe in YOU!

    I feel this with university papers. I’m supposed to write one currently that will decide if I’m capable to write my bachelor thesis or not. If I fail again (this is the second time) I have to leave university or I’m forced to study 2 years longer and loose my student loan. So I would end up on the streets anyway. No matter which direction, so I have to pass. I HAVE to but the fear of failure is so big that I put writing it off for so long and now I’m in a caught in a corner with no way to avoid it. So I have to write it and when I’m done I have 4 other papers waiting in line.
    BUT to ease myself I made a plan and I’m going to stick to it and if I fail, I fail. So what? When you have no time to worry because the deadline is so iminent you have no choice but to go.

    I have worried since the second term if I’m not good enough for university (this is my second degree). Everyone else seems to breeze through it so easily and write those damn papers like it’s nothing but oh, do I know how wrong my mind can be and that’s why I choose not to listen to it anymore. F**** I might not be good enough, smart enough, clever enough but I’m a rebell and that’s why I will push through the wall until I grow horns.
    I have the feeling (and from what I learned) the more you push the easier it becomes next time you are in front of a wall. It will still feel shit but you came so far!

    You have come so far, Emilie! Look at you! You have your own business, your own community, you wrote a whole book, you are a help to so many people! I know you gonna slay the next thing.

  14. Kim Rempel says:

    Yaaaaasss!!! I was JUST rediscovering the fun of rewriting my project this week!! It is as you say – a reawakening to the joy of creativity. Aaaaaah.
    “I forgot how fun this is” Yes.

    I’d put off completing my book (about how my mom’ cancer journey taught me to suffer well, and revealled light in the darkness) – it was deeply personal. She passed away last year, and I’d been reluctant to delve in and write the final chapters.

    When I finally did, I wasn’t as stuck as I thought I was.

    Suddenly I was unearthing gems from the past that fit perfectly and magically into this story – things I had never even considered before.
    At first, they were clunky extras I tacked onto the story, and I feared I’d ruined the whole book and would have to start over.

    Discouraging much?

    But I worked it.
    And problem solved.

    And suddenly they fit.

    And suddenly I was transformed too, from the “writer-for-hire” who writes things for others, things that may or may not connect with me at all, but things that do, after all, pay the bills. I became again what I’d been missing – the creative who tells stories from my heart – stories that uplift the reader, invite them into a soul journey, and even in the deepest pain, point them toward the light.

    Ah, hello real me.
    I almost forgot who you were!

  15. Morgan says:

    Yesterday I was practically in tears trying to record acoustic demos for my first EP. Not even the real thing, just the first little step. I wanted to quit and run away, and I almost did several times. It’s crazy and a little scary to experience that physical, psychological, emotional pain that can happen when you’re trying to do something – maybe the ONE thing – that really matters to you. I think I still have a lot of internal work to do on this, because I have a feeling there are some negative, self-sabotaging beliefs lurking around in there that I don’t want or need to hold onto anymore. But it’s a huge comfort and inspiration to know I’m not alone. Thanks, fellow multipotentialites =) Keep fighting the good fight.

  16. Anjuli says:

    Super hammer here hitting the nail on the head! Been struggling with my own cycles of projects and this helped give me a little boost so thanks for that.

  17. Angele says:

    This post was so on time for me! I’ve decided to start a podcast to help build my audience and I love voice over work, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long but I’m dreading it! I have anxiety right now just writing about this. But you’ve helped me to realize it’s normal to feel this way and the only way to overcome it is to push through it. Thanks Em!

  18. Sophie says:

    I completely understand your feelings. I am currently working on the concept of the brand I want to launch. It must be the 6th draft. It has completely changed and it is so different from the first one. My difficulty now is to stop thinking and decide that the concept is not perfect but I can go with it and start doing!!!!!! But as it is so personal and I am afraid it will not work, I keep working and working on it… Perfection is my worst enemy!

  19. Livia says:

    I’m so glad to have received this today. Just reading about the “resistance” reminds me of diverse projects that I have in the pipeline, waiting for me to take the pains – together with the fun.
    Just now I feel this resistence as I take part in a fun, non-professional, singing workshop, inmidst the preparations of bringing our songs to the stage I feel like saying: That’s the last time I’ll ever take part in these workshops. And somehow I know this is not my soul saying this. It’s just a voice that wants to keep the struggles away and the dangers. But I’ll overcome these fears – and have fun singing my song ;-)

  20. anne mcelroy says:

    For more than the past year (maybe my life) I have been intensely committed to issues related to Animal Welfare. To make a long story short, in the past year, I have taken two courses, gone to several conferences, attended your book launch in Saltspring Island, volunteered, taken my sweet pouch weekly as a Therapy dog to the Emergency department of our local hospital, and, have now written a something (manuscript? script?) about the cruelty to non-human animals by human animals in a variety of venues such as farm factories, marine farming, animal testing, and animals in captivity. I now eat a plant-based diet. The point of this is, that I feel stuck now about where to take all of this. My son says I have to “kiss a lot of frogs”. Any thoughts?

  21. Richard says:

    Yes, I have felt this often. My blog, where I gave up on it for a few months, or didn’t post often. Or my book ideas most of which were only have baked ideas. But more recently I have a better concept. Or my Art.

    All are intimidating and all I have put off, procrastinated over.

    What helps me get over it is the question.
    Do I have something to say?
    If so then say it.

    just write, or paint and see where it leads. Suspend judgement, stop thinking so much and remember the path is supposed to be difficult.

    ‘This is the Job!’

    Is another reminder I use.

    to be a writer I need to write. To be an painter I need to paint. There is no other way.

  22. Joe Rosenberger says:

    I can’t go on.
    I must go on.

  23. Sam Ellis says:

    This has come at exactly the right time for me, like so many others. It’s really hard to push through sometimes. I find I have to put my phone in a different room on some days so that I actually get something done. But sometimes it’s also good to go away and come back with a fresh head. I read that when Neil Gaiman finishes a story, he prints it out, puts it in a drawer and leaves it to ‘marinate’ for a month or so. (Obviously, not everyone has that time frame!) But sometimes going away and taking a walk, working on something else or doing some colouring in allows us to look at it with fresh eyes and push through the resistance.

  24. This is so timely for me as well. I couldn’t understand what was holding me back at first. Even with success, I felt like I failed..

    So, I feared failure again. It’s scary “putting yourself out there”

    But this post helps me identify that and also remember to get back to why I started it in the first place—the love.

    I am going to start having some more fun with it.

    Thank you so much!

  25. Tim Bryant says:

    This is great! I am so glad to hear other people’s comments too! I was listening to a great audiobook called “The War of Art” by Steven PRessfield. It’s all about overcoming resistance. I am staring right in the face the dreams of certain writing projects I have had for awhile. I have tried to avoid them for years and now I can’t find anything else to do but them. I mean internet surfing and other resistance tasks but nothing with any meat on it. I am learning to push through this resistance. Thanks for the reminder of how painful and fun it can be. Love the timer idea. It has worked for me in the past. Best of Luck to everyone.

  26. Nitsan Tal says:

    Thank you for this post. Its good to know others have the same struggles as me. I’m working on a documentary movie. With no formal film making education I’m always struggling with the doubt of whether my project is any good.
    Being that I also shoot my own material I sometimes have hard time watching it. I’m very critical of my own work and get depressed if some shots are out of focus or over exposed. Im sure other documentary cinematographers produce less than perfect shots but we just don’t see it on the screen. Still its hard.
    Lastly, I need to consciously remind myself to appreciate other than resent other great docs I see. The green eyed monster of jealousy…
    Good luck with your script!

  27. Becky Wood says:

    Yes! I just received an email from WordPress that I would need to renew my domain…I forced myself to get on WordPress and start my blog, and an entire year has already gone by and not one post! I had to laugh. I’m not sure how I’m going to get my first one published, haha :) Maybe this will be my first topic! I think I’ll use the 5 min exercise and just publish something, anything to get it going! My mom always used the timer, and it is a great tool.

  28. Sabina Muminovic says:

    As with many out there – what a perfect time for this e-mail to appear in my inbox. I’m about to start a new project, but my task is something I’ve never done before, have zero experience with, and quite frankly, zero idea about what the heck I’m actually supposed to do :) Talk about being out of my depth! There’s nothing left but to push through the nervousness, give my best and hope for the best. Thanks for your advice & for making us feel less alone Emilie :)

  29. Michael says:

    Ug, all the freaking time. Is there any other way to feel? Too many projects, not enough time, inability to decide one over another, so in the end, just knuckle down and do the not quite good enough business but it almost pays the bills and I’ve put 20 years into it and now have staff so I can’t just walk away from it. Since when are we allowed to do/have what we want anyway?

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