Finishing

Posted by Deborah Atherton

I’m guessing most creative people have a number of unfinished projects languishing in their basement, attic, or desk drawer. How many of us have half-written stories, treatments for never-written screenplays, still life paintings featuring a bowl and no fruit, unstrung guitars, unglazed pots, or scratchy renditions of songs that never got transferred from cassette to MP3 lingering somewhere in the background?

Well, dear readers, me too. It’s not that I can’t ever finish things. I’ve finished short stories that got published, opera and music theater pieces that got produced, articles, reviews, etc. etc. But. But. Sometimes it doesn’t happen; sometimes work gets lost or dropped or put aside. And sometimes – as for instance just a few days ago – it suddenly occurs to me that I am more than two-thirds of the way through my new project – in this case my novel – and a wave of – terror is too big a word for it – I suppose anxiety will have to do – a wave, or at least a current, of anxiety hits me. Finishing the novel seems too final, too scary, and not nearly as far off as it was 200 pages ago. And so my writing hours get postponed from morning to evening, and suddenly it is now or a whole day will be lost, and I force myself to sit down at the computer and promise I will let myself get up after a paragraph if I really, really can’t do it.

But if I can make myself do it – if I can force myself to push through the resistance and sit down and focus on doing the thing I love – the rewards are often great. When I finally sat down a few days ago, I didn’t get up after one paragraph. Time disappeared as soon I dove back into the story, and several hours passed quickly. A few more pages made their appearance, bringing me closer to The End. And I once more learned the lesson we all know, really, that nothing happens unless you sit down and allow it to happen. But only another creative person knows how great the distance is between standing and staring down at your desk, and actually sitting down to work. You could drive from New York to Miami, and it would seem short compared to the time it takes to get from the edge of your desk to sitting yourself firmly in that chair.

We all have to make that long-distance journey, every time we commit once more to finishing our creative work. It’s the distance between dreaming and doing, and no one can make it easy for us. But if we’re sure to pack plenty of coffee and water, and check in with friends along the way, we can usually complete our trip. And nothing feels better than arriving at the destination we set when we began.

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