5 Tips for Becoming a Better Finisher
I’ve been hard at work on a novel for close to two decades now.
It’s the project through which I’ve learned how to write well, how to understand story, how to self-publish, and even how to orient my energies towards a worthy goal.
Now, after years of work and revision, I’m three chapters away from finishing off the third and final draft, but now that the end is in sight making progress has become harder than ever.
The doubting, nagging, and accusing voices are always lurking somewhere within the creative process, but if you’ve ever pushed through to complete a large and worthy effort then you know as well as I do that the voices of opposition are always loudest the closer you get to the finish line.
There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that finishing makes it real. As long as you’re still working your project has infinite potential. You can always draw energy from the possibility for improvement. Mistakes can still be fixed, inspiration can still strike, and any criticisms can be deflected by five wonderful words, “it’s a work in progress.” Once you’ve released that final version out into the world, however, it is what it is, and that can be a scary thought.
The second is that finishing generates risk. Once you publish, share, or launch your efforts go from private to public, and just like that they become open to criticism and rejection. Anything that meant enough to you to compel you to sacrifice time, energy, and resources in order to bring it to life inevitably carries some of your identity wrapped up inside of it. Laying that at the foot of the big, wide world is a daunting thought, especially with internet culture being what it is these days.
That’s why the voices of resistance can generate so much power the closer you get to typing ‘The End’, or hitting send on that launch announcement.
Every day for the past two weeks I’ve had to press through some version of the following:
“You’re a fraud who spends time talking about writing but wastes his actual writing time.”
“You obviously don’t want this enough because you could get up earlier and stay up later to get more done, but you don’t.”
“You don’t have that special extra something needed to write something great, just the basic tools to write something decent.”
“Your first few chapters are actually pretty good…so the law of large numbers says the next one will suck a big one. Better quit while you’re ahead.”
“No one is going to like this. You’re pretentious and boring.”
“Even if you finally finish this you’ll just realize that all that time was wasted because no one will find it or read it or like it. Stop wasting your time and spend it on something that will actually provide for your family.”
Any of that sound familiar to you? Turns out the voice of resistance is persistent, but not especially creative. It’s sole focus in to stop us in our tracks and overwhelm us with doubt and uncertainty to keep us playing small.
So, here are 5 tips from my own experience to help you press through those final hurdles like a boss.
- Accept Resistance As a Good Sign
Recognize that the louder the resistance you experience, the more the outcome matters to you, and the more you will grow as a person by completing it. Even if the results aren’t everything you hoped for, the act of finishing will give you confidence for the next project. If you experience little or no resistance, that might be a sign that either the project isn’t really connecting with your passion, or that you haven’t allowed yourself to really stretch yourself and swing for the outer fences.
The presence of resistance is a sign that you’re moving in the right direction.
2. Accept Imperfection as the Price of Completion
Just accept that two minutes after you finally finish, you’ll spot some little error that is going to drive you crazy. Obviously it’s important to give everything our best effort, and take every step we can to polish and improve it. But in the world we live in, imperfection is the price of completion. Nothing will ever be quite as moving or meaningful in the real world as it is in your own head, and that’s ok.
Getting it out there, and then moving on to the next thing, is what creative careers are built on.
3. Focus On One Person
Pick a person you know to be your ideal reader, customer, or consumer. It should be someone who enjoys and understands your work and style. Once you have them in mind, focus all your thoughts about people experiencing your final product on them alone. Stop yourself from thinking about thousands of faceless consumers engaging with your project. Just ask yourself, “would so and so enjoy this?” If the answer is yes, forge ahead.
Focusing on an ideal consumer for your work can help reduce the fear of finishing.
4. Create Your Mantra
Your self-talk becomes increasingly important the closer you get to the finish line. Your state of mind has a huge effect on the quality of your work. If you allow yourself to become fearful, resentful, anxious, and agitated, you’ll find it harder and harder to move forward.
Every day before I start writing I repeat the following:
“I am excited to start writing today. I’m grateful for the time and opportunity that I’ve been given to tell this story. I’m going to make the most of it, and give my writing everything I have to give today.”
Figure out the words that keep you positively focused, and return to them often as you approach completion.
5. Make your goal the smallest possible unit
If you start to feel overwhelmed by resistance, give yourself a break by distilling your work goals into the smallest possible unit. When I’m staring at a blank page and don’t feel like I have the energy or willpower to continue, I’ll set an alarm for 10 minutes and commit to writing for that period. If I’m still exhausted when the alarm buzzes then I celebrate the progress as a break and go do something else, but typically by overcoming the inertia of beginning I find I’m able to continue for 10 more minutes, and 10 more after that.
Focus on a goal that’s small enough to feel achievable in the state you are in, and celebrate every victory along the way.
Hopefully these tips will help you as you work towards completing your own projects this week. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a story to finish.
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