Discover more from Inner Wilds
A sub-field of devotional productivity
Your project was alive, vital, calling out to you to bring it to fruition. Then one day, it died — it lost its spark. What now? How can you resuscitate a dead project — and when shouldn’t you?
I picked the name of this article purely for funsies, but it actually expresses the vibe exceptionally well: I consider this field to be something of a dark art.
A big part of Devotional Productivity is trusting yourself, trusting your urges and desires — which means trusting that when your energy for a project dissipates, that’s for a good reason. When this happens to me, I tend to take a step back and work on something else for awhile, before returning to see if I can sense what went wrong.
If the spark went away, and it isn’t coming back on its own, AND you really really need the project to get done anyways… that’s when we might start consulting the dark magics of Project Necromanagement.
There are quite a few different dynamics available here. Let’s check them out one by one.
Your energy for the project goes away… but all it needed was a little time
This one happens often enough, and it’s simple enough to handle: just step away for a bit, work on something else, and come back in a couple days or a couple weeks. Often, the spark is right where you left it — it just needed some time to cycle back up.
If you step away for awhile, come back, and the spark hasn’t recovered on its own, it may be time to look deeper.
The Wilted Plant
The spark for the project died… because you bent and twisted it and didn’t nurture its seed
Sometimes, a really exciting idea comes to you and you set to work. You start off honoring the core idea and helping it come to fruition — but at a certain point, you realized that if you modified the idea to be a bit more profitable, a bit more sexy, a bit more in keeping with whatever the shoulds of your local psychosphere are, then you could get more money or status or power out of making it.
So you start trimming the idea here, bending it there, tidying up its unmarketable branches over yonder — and before you know it, you actually kind of hate working on this project. You stare at the screen for hours, doing nothing but shuffling pieces around. What could have possibly gone wrong?
If you sense that this dynamic is at play, you need to earn back the idea’s trust while also getting back to the roots and nurturing them. The project has a shape that it wants to take. You’re here to guide and give form to that shape, not to plot towards a shape that serves your ego better. The sooner you take a deep breath and let the ego-driven parts of the project go, the sooner you and the project can get back to the exciting excavation of its true shape.
You kept dilly-dallying on the project, so the spark moved on to someone else
If you’ve hung out with artists, read their memoirs, or generally been around their lore, you’ll see some version of this idea is pretty widely accepted in creative circles, though it might feel a bit out there in the usual business-driven productivity circles.
Ideas have a life of their own. They want to be brought into the world, they want to be embodied, given form, enacted. If the muses give you an idea, and you don’t do anything with it — it seems to move along to the next person who might.
It’s usually best to accept when this happens and move on. Open up to the next idea, and be a bit more discerning about how you approach it.
But if you’re really into this one and aren’t accepting that it’s over, you can always try to win her back. Bring flowers and chocolates and promise that this time it’ll be different, baby. —Or, you know, the project version of that. Sketch out new exciting plans for the project, possibilities for new avenues, possible collaborators and aesthetics… try to lure the spark back. And if you manage to get it back: stop dilly-dallying and actually get to work on it.’
The spark only had a certain amount of juice to it, and you tried to turn the idea into a project the spark couldn’t sustain
You get an idea for a short story, and try to extend it into a series of novels. You get an idea for a song, and try to turn it into a rock opera. You get an idea for a solution to a small philosophical knot, and try to turn it into a grand unifying theory of existence.
There are a lot of ways to over-extend an idea into a project it can’t sustain. In situations like this, the spark may still feel alive, but buried under an increasingly unmanageable sprawl.
The choices here are either to let go, accept that you burned out the spark, and learn a lesson for next time about attending to the scale an project wants — or you can strip the project back down to bare bones and try again.
Sometimes, it’s enough to simply notice what you’ve done, have a good laugh at yourself, and go back to basics. Put aside all the work you’ve done and return to the bare idea. If it turns out later that some of the work is still usable, excellent. If not, at least the spark is back.
The Eldritch Undead
There was never a spark for this project — it was just an illusion of some craving for money or power or acclaim or sex or whatever else
Some projects, there was never a real spark to begin with. There was only some sense that you should care about it, or an inner grasping for what success in the project might mean. It can be easy to mistake the boss in your head for an actual spark.
If the pseudo-spark on one of these projects dies, let it.
If it’s not that simple — if your rent is on the line or something like that — your dark magic options are fairly slim, but one of them can work pretty often if you’re willing to throw a hail mary.
Basically, you need to get in touch with the real underlying generative reason to do this project. In this case, perhaps something like “stability.” Really go deep with yourself, finding what it feels like to draw strength from the part of you that needs what this project can offer.
Once you can sense that need, that strength, that generative reason to keep going — ask it very sincerely to share its own spark with the project you’re working on. If you’re not used to praying or speaking with the depths, this might feel silly. But you did say you’re willing to throw a hail mary.
It’s important to note that this is a black magic hail mary, and unintended consequences can come into play quickly. Just off the top of my head: the inner depths that you ask to help you with stability might hear you — and then decide that if stability looks like doing work you hate just to scrape by, then maybe this stability is overrated.
You might not get what you want from this exercise, but you’re likely to get what you need.
Respect the Spark
The underlying principle behind all the above dynamics, and any other of the dozens you might think of, is to treat yourself, your energy, your projects, and your ideas with respect. They’re not resources to be mined and depleted, at least not in a Devotional Productivity standpoint. If you want to treat your time, attention, and self as resources to be manipulated, there’s a whole world of other productivity frameworks out there.
In any situation you find yourself in, spark or no spark, the key is to listen; to attend to what the project calls for, how the idea wants to be realized. Of course, we live in a world where we all have to eat and pay rent and communicate with other people — so there’s a lot of wiggle room for shaping that realization, for listening and then speaking back. In other words, there’s a conversation to be had, there’s sweet-talking to be done.
Just remember that the same dynamics are at play here as in any relationship: if you bulldoze someone else, manipulate them, sweet talk them with empty words and no follow up, ignore them, expect more of them than they can give — trust will be lost, the working relationship will be damaged.
If, on the other hand, you’re a delightful assistant, an attentive listener, and a trustworthy collaborator — the work finds ways to take care of you.