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Maker Woes: Overcoming Maker Dry Spells

Written by: Ned Kimmel

Circumstances can put us in a variety of situations or places in our maker lives. And due to a variety of reasons, makers can find themselves knee-deep in the maker woes. One of my most frequent maker woes is when I hit a dry spell. There can be a number of causes to a dry spell; increasing family obligations, busy work schedules, tool breakdowns, and even sometimes you just don’t “feel” it. Read more to help identify some of the most common causes of maker dry spells and how to remedy them.

What to do When Life is Busy

One of my most frequent maker road-blocks is when it seems life just gets too busy to allow me to find time to get in my shop. Whether it is a growing family (we have four young children, so I know how this feels) or a busy work schedule, sometimes it seems like there isn’t another minute left in the day for making. The part of your schedule allocated for making often fees like the first to be removed when trying to find time for the rest of “life.” When I feel like I just don’t have time for making, I find that keeping a making journal or making a diary helps quench the making thirst. Even if you don’t have time to put your hands to work on a project, you can start sketching out future projects in a maker journal or planning out a materials list for an upcoming project. Whether you like working from plans or not, sometimes it is good to put your ideas to paper to help brainstorm new ideas or to help in preventing future miscalculations or mistakes.

What to do When You’re Afraid of Failure

Okay, so you finally have time to get in the shop and you start building a new bookcase. You’ve researched hundreds of designs and settled on a hybrid design including your own personal touches and a variety of other pieces you’ve studied. You gather your materials and start to plan out all of your cuts so you waste as little material as possible. Suddenly you find yourself at the point of the project where you have to start on a new joinery method that you were previously excited to try but now are frozen with fear of failure. You’ve never tried this new method and you feel like you’ll destroy the whole project if you mess up now.

I affectionately dubbed this bookcase the marathon project. It took me eight months to finish.

A few years ago, I started working on the bookcase to the left. Within the first few days of working on the bookcase, I found myself at the point where I needed to make the through tenons for the shelves to attach to the sides of the bookcase. I had practiced on a few scrap pieces of wood but I became so intimidated by fear of failure that I stopped the project altogether.

Over the next few months, I would start and stop the project countless times. All because I was worried that the end product wouldn’t meet my standard. After, much positive reinforcement from my supportive wife (“I REALLY need a bookcase….”) and the everyday reminder of the books living in our house without a proper home, I told myself that I had to finish the project.

After eight months of procrastination and starting and stopping, I dove in headfirst. I finished the bookcase. It had flaws. It had mistakes. It had failures mixed with successes. But at the end of the day, it holds books and I built my first project without a single metal fastener or screw. I couldn’t have felt more accomplished.

So if you hit a dry spell for similar reasons, there is a solution that has worked for me. Don’t pick projects that are so complicated that they will discourage you and halt your progress. Learn new techniques in an incremental process. Stretch yourself to get better, but don’t set yourself up for failure.

I could have completed that bookcase from the beginning because I had practiced the techniques prior to starting on the primary project, but I lacked the confidence. Every project you make is likely to have at least a few minor mistakes or failures. Those mistakes will probably only be noticed by YOU. Don’t be afraid of those mistakes, but learn from them and look at them as documented accounts of your maker journey.

Dry Spells That are Out of Your Control

Lately, I’ve found myself in a new kind of dry spell. One that truly seems unavoidable. My family and I recently moved into a new house. We outgrew our old house and both my wife and I wanted to find a space more suitable for our maker adventures. Our new house has a two-car garage for my woodshop and a finished basement space for my wife to work on her myriad of maker projects. But there is one problem that has stopped me dead in my maker tracks.

My garage has one electrical outlet. My garage is full of household moving leftovers that don’t have a home yet. I have no way to run my tools and I have no room to work. It has been

nearly three months since we have moved and I haven’t been able to spend one day in my woodshop. But, looking back, it hasn’t stopped me from making. I’ve still had the opportunity to work on projects in our new home. I’ve spent time working with our honey bees. I’ve worked on The Making Life website. I’ve started planning the work that needs to be done to my woodshop; planning my electrical upgrade, and sketching the layout of my tool locations in my future larger workspace! This is exciting!

Dry spells Don’t Last Forever

So regardless of the dry spell that you are in, there are ways out of it. If you find yourself completely roadblocked from your go-to making hobby, think about exploring a new type of making. Until my shop is back in order, I’m looking into grabbing a few pieces of wood scrap from my collection and taking up wood-burning.

Even though my shop is completely unusable at the time, wood-burning is something that I can practice and experiment within my house. The bottom line is that we are all going to experience the maker woes at some point in our maker life. We’ll find ourselves in a dry spell and think that making was a chapter in a previous life. Don’t stay idle. There is something to make on the horizon. That’s the making life.

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