I have about 25 million unfinished cross-stitch projects. They are designs I picked up with deep engagement but then set aside at some point because of life . . . or because a new pattern came along that caught my eye . . . or because I got to a place where I needed a new color or had to blend flosses or just got bored.
2019 is the year I am committing to finishing as many of them of them as possible. It’s time. I need to clean out my various baskets and drawers, but more, I need the sense of completion, the energy that comes with finishing something and feeling good about a job well done.
The same is true for writing projects. So many of us – myself included – begin projects only to abandon them because we get to that awful middle (the middle is awful for most of us, right?) or we need that one fact that we can’t track down or we just get bored or we think of a new idea and get drawn away. Our drawers and computer hard drives are chockfull of half-written books and article, ideas that were so intriguing when we began but became too much or too little partway through.
What if we all made 2019 the year of finishing projects OR simply declaring them “done” and sending them to a file that archivists will recover when we become famous and big libraries want every jot we over wrote?
When to Push On and Finish
Most of the projects I’ve started are worth finishing, and I KNOW that’s true for you, too. It’s simply far more easy to let something go than it is to actually finish it because finishing requires some deep delving into our reserves of creativity and stamina and good, hard-won perseverance. There’s nothing sexy or shiny about sticking to it. It’s just daily.
But writing – mostly, it’s just daily . . . and that’s the beauty of it.
Here’s how I decide if something is worth finishing: I figure out why I stopped working on it.
- Was I simply in the middle and thought I should probably become a rodeo clown rather than a writer because I was writing nonsense?
- Did I get bored with my story, and if so, was I in the middle where I always get bored with my stories?
- Did I get distracted by a shiny, new idea and switch tracks?
- Did I read something by a writer who is far more talented than I and get discouraged and decide to go to learn how to jump in a barrel and avoid a charging bull?
- Did I have a major life occurrence – say having a baby – and have to step away for a while?
If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then I know I need to go back and finish. Period. None of these is a good enough reason to abandon a project.
The Big Trick of How to Finish
Alas, there is no trick. There is only the hard work of sitting down, butt in chair, and committing to the work. Just like the writing life. . . every day. . . forever.
That said, there are a few things that I’ve found help:
- Set a deadline to finish the draft and tell people about it. Nothing like the threat of judgment to get my tush in gear. (Can a tush be in gear?)
- Work back from that deadline and, week by week, determine how many words you need to write (roughly) to hit the goal.
- Set a schedule for each week so that you can get those words done.
- Plan a celebration for when you finish the draft and tell people about it. Nothing like the promise of cake to get my tush in gear.
- Repeat for revisions, agent/publisher hunting, indie publishing.
I am a firm believer in goals, schedules, and public accountability. Hence, my newsletter where I announced my schedule for the new Steele Secrets book. If I say it out loud, it’s much more likely to happen.
But sometimes, rarely, we do need to put aside something and move on.
When to Let Go
If you are like me, you may actually struggle with simply abandoning a project. My shelves of half-finished reads and the aforementioned cross stitch projects testify to my unwillingness to leave something incomplete, even if it stays that way for decades. (Chickadee cross-stitch from 5th grade, I’m looking at you.) I tend to think that I might want to go back to that later when it’s more fitting or I have more time (HA!) or because suddenly chickadees will be on trend or something.
The truth is, though, that sometimes, we have to abandon projects. Maybe they really are not worth our energy anymore, even if we devoted a lot of energy to them earlier. Here’s how I make that evaluation in my own writing:
- If I haven’t even thought about something for a year, I purge it into the “Never Gonna Do It” folder that is buried on my hard drive. (I do operate like some archivist is going to want my every word after I die, and I’m okay with that.)
- If I started something because it was trendy or because someone else told me I should but didn’t really care about it and subsequently abandoned it, into the “Never” folder it goes.
Sometimes, I have to just know that a project isn’t for this time, though, and so I created a “Maybe Later” folder. There, I store two types of pieces:
- Ones I really care about but don’t have the capacity – because of research required, because of a certain type of schedule the book requires (see my farm journal), etc – to do at this moment.
- Projects that still hold my tingly intrigue but not as much as something else.
I have to be careful though because I can trick myself into thinking the “Nevers” are really “Maybes.” The truth is that I have a lot more “Nevers” than “Maybes” if I’m honest.
For me, I need to abandon or set aside a project maybe once every two to three years. The rest of them, those I need to finish. . . because here’s the thing – one of the central tenets of writing is momentum. If I keep writing, if I keep finishing projects, I’m more likely to finish more, but if I make a habit of quitting, of setting things aside, then my momentum quickly becomes inertia.
So in 2019, want to commit with me to finish the things we’ve begun or to take those rare few and let them go? If so, commit publicly (see what I did there) in the comments below. We’ll all be better for it as writers . . . and cross-stitchers, too.
This year, for the first time, I’m taking Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge.
I made my picks and shared them on Instagram this morning. Care to join me?