desk, journal and ruler-jeff-sheldon, unsplash

It’s not easy to finish a project—let alone start it—when you know it’ll be judged (when you know you’ll be judged; when someone is judging our work, it’s hard to separate the work from ourselves, isn’t it? instead, we tend to take it personally and internalize it).

Rather, it’s very easy to get hyper-focused on the potential critiques and comments. What will they think of this? Is that too silly, too cliche? Too bold? Bad? Really bad? When we anticipate judgment, it’s very easy to feel disconnected from our work, to feel self-conscious and to doubt each sentence, each stanza, each stroke—maybe even everything we’re doing.

It’s like you become an outsider, focused on others’ thoughts and reactions instead of being with your project. Instead of being inside your project, totally focused and in flow. Which is why asking someone to comment on or critique our work isn’t necessarily helpful. In fact, it can become a big obstacle that stalls and sabotages our creativity.

What’s more helpful is to wait until we’re done.

“Not finishing a piece of writing can feel like the death of a dream,” write Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton in their book Finishing School. The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done. I’d say that’s true for anything you’re working on. For any creative project.

Tennis created Finishing School to help writers finish their projects. Specifically, writers meet once a week for 2 hours. They identify the tasks they’d like to complete for their writing project and the times they’ll accomplish these tasks during the week. When they meet, writers don’t share their writing. Instead, they share their experiences with writing: whether they wrote, how it went and what got in the way.

Finishing School

“Finishing School is not about judging and improving the work; rather it is about doing the work no matter how good or bad the writing seems on a particular day. This is an important distinction,” write Tennis and Morton. As they note elsewhere, it’s “not about the worth of the work; it’s about the working.”

In the book Tennis and Morton share suggestions for having our own Finishing School, which can be done with two people (you and a buddy). Before you sit down to write, text your buddy that you’re starting (and they do the same). At your meetings, ask each other these questions: “Did you meet your goal? What obstacles did you encounter? How are you feeling about it? What are your plans for the upcoming week?”

They also suggest staying the entire hour in your meeting, even if you’re done early. You can work on your project during that time. This is important because it not only helps you make tangible progress on your project, but it also “reinforces for you, subconsciously, or emotionally, the fact that you have that full hour available to you to do this work that is vitally important to you. You have made it available. It shows you that you can schedule time and use it.” When the hour is up, schedule your next meeting, and write it down in your planner.

What project have you been trying to finish?

Consider having your own Finishing School with a buddy—a buddy who isn’t there to evaluate your work but rather to support you in completing it. (Of course, sometimes it’s better to abandon a project, if nothing seems to be working, or if your heart’s not in it. It’s totally OK to quit. Life is too short to spend on projects that you’re no longer passionate or curious about. These tips are for projects that you’re yearning to complete.)

Then at your last meeting, be sure to celebrate. Tennis has a tradition of having writers print out their work and—if it’s appropriate—drop it to the floor, “to hear that satisfying sound. Celebrate with dinner or an exchange of gifts, or some soul-satisfying experience such as a concert or move. Make it special.”

After all, finishing takes work. But with a realistic plan and some support, you can absolutely complete your creative project.

Photo by Jeff Sheldon.