On Finishing

I was working with a client yesterday and we were talking about a story they have, an internal narrative that says to them: You can never finish anything. And when those voices come up, sometimes this client pulls out their diploma, and says to those voices: At least once, I did.

I share this story, with their permission, because it got me thinking about my own relationship to finishing, my own internal narratives about how I love to start things but don’t have the follow through to complete them.

I’ve been saying that I’m “almost finished” with a first draft of my novel for a while now… Like a many months while. And I suppose what I meant by “almost” has shifted from about 1/3 to ¼ to now (I hope) about 1/10th. So maybe part of it is my own (over)enthusiasm for finishing and my difficulty with predictions (and fractions). And also part of it is that the ending has unspooled, has rolled out before me with much more needing to happen than I had thought (hoped?).

But there’s another factor, I know, and it’s that I’ve been circling the ending. Afraid to put the stamp “finished” on it. Even if it is just a shitty-first-draft-kind-of-finished stamp. There are resistances rising up.

The first resistance is to finishing and moving to the next step. It is the fear or feeling that it is almost easier to keep going on the first draft than it is to finish, than to go back and face the monstrous hodgepodge—crookedly stitched together, in many places with broken seams and gaping holes—that waits behind me. All the things that need to be changed, added, tossed out, completely rewritten (or just written) in the draft.

The second has to do with perfectionism, and things never feeling perfect, or good, or good enough to call finished. (There’s another post on this topic certainly, but I’ll save that for another day.)

The third is similar to what my client was feeling. These are the stories and fears I have about finishing. About finishing the novel; about finishing anything. The voices that say, you don’t finish anything. That even when presented with my first, finished, published book, say, well, sure, but that’s not a novel. (These voices love to get creative.)

Because in writing this book I am not only writing its story, but also my own. In any creative project, in any big endeavor, really, we call up all the stories and beliefs about who we really are—and who we are not. What we are capable of, and what we are not.

Basically starting (and finishing) anything worth doing is a great opportunity for all your limiting beliefs and narratives and inner critics to come roaring to the surface. You’re essentially laying out a buffet, hanging the balloons, and sending out the invitations. But that also means that it’s an opportunity. To not only meet those critics face to face, but to get to know them, to calm some of their fears or distract them with dancing or cookies or get them so drunk they pass out in the corner and you can get back to your work.

Because in the face of all those demons—all these limiting beliefs and narratives—we have the possibility, the choice, to cow to them, to acknowledge they are right, or to face them, ignore them, hear their taunts and do it anyway. We also have the possibility to sit down with them, hear them out and realize they are just some small, usually very young part of ourselves—terrified of failing or being laughed at or being abandoned and left out of the cave to die—trying to keep us safe and alive.

And these creative projects are in fact the perfect opportunity to show those voices and stories that say that we cannot or should not—that we can, and we will. And that we will still be alive, still be safe when we do. It is the chance to prove them wrong with our doing. It is a chance to show them we can.

Allowing us to reach that magical place where we have the freedom and conviction to write new stories of who we are, what we have done, and what we can do.