Saturday, January 2, 2010

Finishing: A Resolution

Does anyone else have a problem with finishing things? I do. When we moved into this house two and a half years ago, I stripped about 1/3 of the paint off the staircase, then stopped. It is currently a horrible eyesore that we've all grown used to. Around the same time, I started knitting JR a sweater, grew nervous when I realized I was unsure how to do the collar, then put it aside, on top of a pile of other partially-finished knitting projects.

But of course this is really about writing. I'm not going to list all the unfinished stories and even novels I have lying around my office. What gives? Really, what gives???

For a long time I thought there was some mysterious thing going on, a non-finishing neurosis. What does "finishing" symbolize, Dr. Freud? Well, death! But also sex, which kind of cancels out death.

JR thinks it's about fear of failure. Probably. It's so much nicer to keep everything in a state of potentiality -- I'd rather think, "I'm knitting JR a sweater!" than "I spent two years knitting a sweater and now he won't wear it because of that bad collar." And I guess I'd rather have my characters suspended in their intriguing situations than have them march out some plot toward a necessarily limited denouement. Right now, my unfinished novels can mean anything, and anything could happen! There's something really pleasurable about it.

Of course, something really stupid and juvenile, too. A friend told me yesterday, in the nicest possible way, that I'm not very ambitious. I would never have thought that, but it's true. It takes wanting something more than the pleasure of potentiality to get things done, to get past the fear of disappointment and actually accomplish things.

So, resolution number one for 2010: be more ambitious. Got a good start: I finished the sweater. It took about twenty minutes, and the collar looks fine.


Anonymous said...

I tried the sweater on--it is awesome. And it isn't the only thing Rhian will finish this year. Huzzah!!

Zachary Cole said...

Go Rhian! My partner has the same problem-- she has dozens of unfinished stories on her laptop, many of them worth completing.

In her case, reinforcement from strangers seemed to help. She read one of her few completed tales at a reading recently, and the reaction was fantastic-- not just during the reading itself (which is to be expected) but afterwards as well. She might even submit her story.

sjwoo said...

I have enough unfinished stuff to fill an entire book, so you're certainly not alone.

It might be a lack of ambition that prevents you from finishing things; for me, it's fear. And it's not even fear of rejection or disappointment but just plain old forward movement. Sometimes it feels better to be standing still, observing and watching while the world moves on. Stasis is underrated.

Much luck to you, Rhian! Just gotta put the pedal to the metal and see where it takes you. That's what I'm doing, and whatever happens, happens. The most important thing is getting it down on paper. Here's a guy who knows a thing or two about that:

rmellis said...

Thank you! Hey, sjwoo, that Stewart O'Nan essay is great. It's actually about persistence, which kind of a neglected subject...

christianbauman said...

Congratulations on the sweater! As for novel(s)...I'm one Rhian fan who's been waiting for novel #2 for a long time. 2010 sounds like a good year to have it done. Good luck!

And know that you're not alone in having trouble finishing things. I have three unfinished novels in my laptop right now, all 3 of which could have been done a year ago (at least).

Blythe said...

Thanks so much for this post.

I need to remember that finishing one thing doesn't mean that the pleasure of potentiality is lost--it just needs to be relocated.

Art O.T. Grid said...

Hey, I saw that unfinished sweater, uh, when was that?

Here's my "finishing" problem...

(okay, lack of ambition, fear of failure, blah, blah, blah)

and then there's
just the WORK

beginning a project is full of potential, it's exciting, I think it's going to be brilliant UNTIL

the voices begin to tell me this (painting, for instance) is a mediocre piece of crap and so am I
and I should be doing something useful, like laundry or getting a job

THEN there is the part that is just work, neither inspiring nor despairing, just work, just completing the damn thing

Often I feel better when it's done, if only because
it's done

and if I keep doing this work I won't have time to get a job

rmellis said...

It was only a year and a bit ago, AOTG! And it was almost done, wasn't it?

Anyway, whatever it is, it's a bad habit. Every prolific person I know is focused on the finishing, rather than just the doing.

Good luck to your partner, Zachary!

Christian -- if you finish one of yours, I'll finish one of mine this year.

Blythe -- I'm thinking about what you said....

Nancy said...

good heavens, not ambitious ? Sorry, but that just cannot be true. Don't beat yourself up, John. You are amazing.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, this was Rhian's post, not mine!

Nancy said... apologies....but do I get a pat for
imagining you knitted ??

Sorry Rhian !

Pete said...

There is great talk by Seth Godin on this very topic, and I highly recommend it:


Hope said...

Rhian, congrats on finishing the sweater! I had a pillowcase I wanted to sew for my daughter that I started when she was 4 -- she picked out the cloth. Now she's 22. I think I threw it out about three years ago, but I could never get over the idea that I would finish it someday. With writing, yes, I have scads of unfinished stuff, mostly because it doesn't fit my vision of what I wanted and I didn't put the time in to revise. That, and nobody cared whether I finished or not. I only "finished" my first novel because I had to for a class. It still really sucks, and I hope to rewrite it by June. I think that's why I like writing poetry so much, it's much easier to "finish."
BTW, your unpainted staircase is lovely!

Trevor Jackson said...

Thanks for this post. I have very similar piles of unfinished home/work/writing projects begun and unfinished and even more un-begun.

Good luck and thanks for pinpointing for me the ambition element to my procrastination. The trick is figuring out what I want.

Lily said...

I'm not sure what the not-finishing is about for me (maybe a desire to make sure things are absolutely perfect, which means rewriting something way more than it should be rewritten), but I also want to get over it this year. In fact, I want to get over one unfinished thing in January and another one in March. Maybe we should form some kind of nagging/rewarding support group. xo