On Friday I published a book that I have been working on, in one form or another, for the past fifteen years.
Stop and think about that for a minute.
A decade and a half is an awfully long time to carry the torch for any single project, but in my work as a life coach and creativity consultant I’ve continued to discover that most of us carry dreams, ideas, projects, and aspirations inside of us for just as long, if not longer.
The longer a dream remains dormant in our thoughts, the higher the stakes become, and the harder it can be to actually work toward finishing it. The sense that the finished product can never be as good as you’ve hoped it would be, that when they finally hold your work in their hands or see the final outcome your friends and family will just ask you why you wasted so much time on it, can become overwhelming.
But the truth is, if you’ve been carrying a dream or an idea around for a while, you need to finish it.
You need to finish it for your own mental and emotional health, for your sense of self, for your belief that you can actually finish things in the first place. And you need to finish it because the world is made a better place through the slow accumulation of our individual creative contributions.
So, let me share a few tips with you from my own journey to the finish line, in hopes that they help you reach yours.
1. Commit To A Final Deadline
This might sound like the most obvious thing in the world, but it’s remarkably easy to stay stuck in the land of “I’m working on this project” forever. It’s a lot easier to make vague comments about thinking about, working on, and refining something than it is to tell people when it’s going to be done.
As I said, I’ve been working on this book for years, but even after a finished draft and round of revisions it still lingered in limbo until I started telling people “it will be out by May 15th.” Suddenly, I was in crunch mode, and I got up early and stayed up late to get everything finished in time for the deadline I’d committed to. The key thing here is to not only set a deadline for yourself, but start talking about it with others as though it was a done deal.
2. Focus On Satisfaction Over Celebration
People often tell you to visualize the final result to help motivate yourself to finish, and while I think that’s good advice, I also think it can be a little dangerous. I’d recommend visualizing the personal satisfaction you will feel when you see your work completed and released into the world, rather than on the response you hope it will receive.
Others’ responses are outside of your control, so if you tie your sense of accomplishment to receiving praise and a lot of interaction right away, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. Even worse, by focusing your thoughts on how good it would feel for everyone to celebrate your finished product, you raise the stakes in your own mind while you’re still working, which can contribute to the resistance that pushes back against you finishing in the first place. Focus on finishing because you need and want to do it.
3. Work In Small Bursts
For big, important projects it can be tempting to wait until you have big, uninterrupted time to work. Time when you feel ready and full of top grade creative energy. If your life is anything like mine, those times are as rare as snow in June. Instead of waiting for “magic time”, commit to working on your project within the normal flow of your daily rhythms.
During the final weeks of finishing my novel I got up an hour earlier so that I could work on it during the quiet morning hours. Find 20, 30, or 60 minute blocks in your schedule, and set them aside for your project. Tell your friends and family about it so that they can support you by respecting those times, and then take them seriously. Turn off your wifi and put your phone in a drawer if you need to, do whatever it takes to make good use of those blocks. If you do that consistently, week after week, I guarantee you that you will find yourself looking at a finished project before you ever thought you would.
4. Focus On Growth Over Achievement
Finally, try your best not to think of “finishing” as “arriving”. No matter how important this project is to you or how long you’ve been working on it, it isn’t your identity as an artist or a human being. It’s a worthy pursuit, but hopefully it will be just one of many in your continued growth throughout your life.
Focus on what you’re learning and becoming through the process of completing it, rather than seeing it as a destination to arrive at. If you do, the finish line itself becomes just another milestone in your continued journey, and that is a lot less intimidating.
I wish you all the success in the world!
If you’d like to check out my novel, Fire in the Dawn, you can grab it for free on Amazon through May 15th.
Fire in the Dawn is an epic fantasy of political intrigue, honor, and the struggle for identity in a world balanced on the brink of annihilation.
Kyren e’Cania is the last son of a fallen House, raised in secret in the shadows of the city his family once ruled.
Trained by his father in the ways of his people, Kyren has avoided the notice of the tyrant who murdered his family by never giving anyone reason to suspect he is anything more than a nameless peasant.
But when an ambitious noble sets dangerous events in motion, Kyren must find a way to reclaim his heritage and unite his people, before everything he loves is swallowed by fire and sword once again.