I have a pile of glass food storage containers on my counter. It’s been there for over a week. The drawer in which they were stored could no longer bear the weight of them and had begun to come apart.
In order to put them away, I need to empty out another cupboard.
It’s daunting. What am I going to do with the stuff that’s in there? It can’t go in the broken drawer – nothing can until we fix it.
So the pile of containers waits for me to decide what to do next.
I move them to the side to make coffee.
I move them again to lay pots and knives out to dry.
They are physically in my way, but I am frozen by fear of how much work it is going to take to put them away.
Let’s use my kitchen debacle as an analogy for unfinished writing projects. Let’s say that in a burst of inspiration and motivation, you write a partial first draft of a novel, or a memoir, or even a first draft of an essay or short story. Then you walk away, knowing what your next step has to be.
Only you never complete that next step.
You don’t finish the first draft. You don’t revise. You don’t ask for beta readers. You don’t seek out publication options. You don’t submit it anywhere. It languishes in your journal, or in a document folder.
We might think that’s okay. “I’ll come back to it when [insert excuse about perfect timing here].”
But here is the problem: it is in your way.
Sure, it might physically be tucked away, but it is blocking your creative flow. It is like a boulder in a stream.
Can we return to my kitchen for a moment? Here are some destructive thoughts I’ve noticed during this period of procrastination:
- I hate this kitchen.
- What is wrong with me?
- Why do I have to do this?
- Why can’t I get this stupid @$##% done?!
- I am a total loser.
You get the picture.
Do you do this with your unfinished projects? I do.
Unfinished projects weigh us down. We balk at restarting because it is hard work to finish them. It is hard work!! And we are frozen in fear in the face of that work.
So what to do?
ACTION STEPS FOR REMOVING THE BURDEN OF UNFINISHED PROJECTS
- Make a decision. Either you are going to finish it, or you are not. Make that decision strongly, and with confidence. (If you decide to abandon it, do so with no shame or negative self-talk. There is nothing wrong with deciding to abandon a creative project if you know why you are doing so.)
- Moving forward? Decide what “finished” looks like. Is it letting your family read it? Is it seeing it in print? Knowing the end game is important because it gives you a direction in which to move.
You’ll need your calendar for the next steps. Go get it. I’ll wait.
3. Set a completion date. If you are aiming for publication, have this be the date you send it to a publication or an agent, since after that the timing is not in your control.
4. Plan backward. This is a favorite strategy of mine from my teaching career. You know when you need to have accomplished something by, so now you can plan the small steps along the way to ensure you get there. By what date will you be finished editing? Revising? Drafting?
5. Put the baby steps on your calendar. Be as specific as possible. “Tuesday, September 4, draft 500 words of chapter 7.” “Thursday, August 23, revise for description.”
Of course it goes without saying…none of this works unless you follow through. Here is a bonus action step to use throughout this process:
- Notice your thoughts along the way. The inner critic will pop up throughout. She might say things like: “No way you’ll finish that. Why don’t you just quit and go eat some chips?” (Is that just mine?) Remind yourself that this if FEAR talking. You are afraid because the work ahead is hard. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it! As Brené Brown says, “We can do hard things.”
It is important to me that you understand that I am no perfect specimen of writerly goodness here. Just like I have glass containers on my kitchen counter, I have unfinished drafts of essays and stories and even a complete manuscript languishing away.
These are the steps I have been using over the past year to clear space for my creativity. One by one by one.
Let’s support each other, okay?
P.S. If time is still the issue, I want to offer this free resource to help you find and nurture time in your busy life to write in a consistent and sustainable way. CLICK HERE to grab your copy.