Starting a new writing project is half the battle. Finishing is the other half. We could quibble about muddling middles. For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on halves.
Some writers have drawers full of half-finished projects. Some have trouble even starting. Whichever you are, the key to finishing your writing projects are SFGs — Small Focused Goals.
SFGs give you SSWs — Small Steady Wins. Those wins are essential to helping you build resilience and skills so you can live the creative life you want. That life might look like making a living full-time or part-time or simply space for writing to be part of your life again.
If You Have Trouble Beginning
Desire is rarely a problem for creatives. The desire to write feels like a burning itch that needs to be scratched or a low-grade fever of dissatisfaction. When ignored, that feeling can turn into full on depression, anxiety, and creative block. So don’t ignore it!
SFG: Surrender to Desire
Instead, keep a notebook and pen with you at all times. Now, pay attention to when the desire to write shows up or a fresh idea pops into your head. The moment it does, surrender. Take out your notebook and write.
Write down the idea exactly as it comes to you, without judgment. Write about the way it feels to want to write and about where that feeling shows up in your body. Write about your dreams, your biggest fears. Just write for 5 minutes.
SSW: Congratulations! You are a successful writer of words, my friend, and you have a notebook to prove it. You’ve also taken a step toward unblocking yourself and opening your creative flow. Trust me, it gets easier after this.
If You Have Trouble Finishing
Ideas are rarely a problem for creatives either. Like parakeets in a trinket shop full of bright, shiny things, we find ourselves flitting from one new idea to another. We start a thousand writing projects but never see any of them to completion.
There are two problems here. One, no one publishes unfinished projects (unfortunately). And two, we risk becoming paralyzed and stuck, never growing beyond basic writing skills and techniques.
Picking a single project to focus on can feel like choosing a favorite kid. Don’t worry; all your babies will get their proper due. For now though, they each deserve your undivided attention.
SFG: Pick One!
To choose a project for your SFG, ask yourself this one question: Of all the projects I’ve begun, which one will I regret not finishing? Do you have the stamina and skills to finish it? If not, that’s okay. Come back to it when you do. Instead, choose your easiest project. Which one is almost there, but needs one more draft? Which one requires the least from you emotionally? Choose that one instead.
Now, ignore the shimmer of all other writing projects dangling before you. Set tiny, daily goals for yourself. Write 100 words. Write 10 minutes. Then do that every day until you type the words “The End.” The entire project doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. In fact, it can be a perfectly shitty first draft. But it will be your shitty first draft, and it will be finished.
SSW: Congratulations! Completing a project is a big deal. Savor the sweet taste of success! Enjoy the feeling of having set a goal for yourself and having met it. Now muster all that newfound confidence and satisfaction and use it to finish something else. Rinse, repeat.
NOTE: Not all projects have to be completed, but it’s a good practice to get into if only for the valuable lessons in how to end something and move on.
Whether you have trouble getting started or seeing a project through to the end, you are perfectly normal. I mean, for a writer any way. Don’t beat yourself up. Focus on what you do well and work on getting better at the rest. One small focused goal at a time.
Christa Hogan is a creative fiction and non-fiction writer and veteran freelancer. She also teaches mindfulness meditation for creatives and caregivers.