On Being Afraid To Finish A Writing Project

On how to overcome it

More than anything, this past year has creatively challenged me in more ways than I can imagine. If I were to list off all of the writing opportunities and milestones that I’ve reached, I can surely pat myself on the back, but at the same time, my mind keeps asking the question, “What does progress mean in a period of time that feels like so much is happening and also at a standstill?”

In the “ordinary” world, writing accomplishments operate as markers in a year. Things to look forward to and things to reflect. Instead, this past year has brought so many good things that have also felt very intimate. Last year when I finished my memoir draft, I sat at my desk in my room, stared at the wall in front of me, and just blinked. I thought, “What the hell do I do know?”

More often than not, I wonder if writing is one of my life’s true loves or if it’s one of my life’s most bittersweet coping mechanisms. In my heart of hearts, I know the answer, which is that it is one of my life’s great loves. But during a pandemic year as I’m nearing the end of the first draft of a new project, I feel a lot of fear, especially as a freelance writer.

I fear… What will I fill the time with that I’ve spent working on this novel over the last half a year? What if I become overwhelmed by the new things I choose to fill my day with? What if this project isn’t as good as I want it to be? Who am I going to be when I have to let go of it?

Despite the reality of these fears, I also know that I must keep moving forward. Slow down for my creative brain when needed, and step up when it is time. So if you’re fearing the end of a project, here are some tips I have for you.

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ONE. Get reacquainted with the world of your project.

One of the best ways to jump back into your work to get familiar with it again. This can mean listening to a playlist you made to remind you of your project’s themes, watching a film that inspires you or simply rereading old passages from your project.

Sometimes when I’m stuck, I’ll just sit down with photos from the time period I’m writing in or check out videos that help with research on things that a particular character might know.

TWO. Start bits of research on a new idea.

This tip can be a double-edged sword but has worked for me a lot. Instead of getting caught in the mental loop of “I can’t get to work on this current project,” it can help instead to start research on a new idea. When we have a creative blockage, sometimes it’s good to get excited about something new. I truly believe that any kind of creativity can be the answer to a creative problem in another medium or project.

EXAMPLE: Last year when I was on a freelance writing plateau, I decided to dedicate time to more personal and creative projects. Once I started to do this, my creative energy increased a lot and that excess energy helped me finish my assignments that were on deadline.

THREE. Find an avenue to share your new work with your community and get feedback/praise.

This tip is helpful for people that get too much in their head about the quality of their work and generally consider themselves “perfectionists”. I believe this tip helps in two ways.

The first way it helps is by getting you out of your mind and into the process of releasing your ego by actively choosing to share your work. The reason that is so important because we can perfect a piece of writing as much as we want, especially with the excuse that it needs to be at its best in order for the artist to feel comfortable sharing. BUT… when I deviate from this logic and just share for the joy of sharing, I also tend to discover that most people just like to hear what their writer friends have been working so hard on (usually in private).

The second way that this tip is helpful is that it gives you a chance to showcase your work and potentially build community. If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s that more people are interested in ways to fill their time in productive ways. Additionally, the feedback you get from people can be a powerful tool in getting you interested in your own work again.

EXAMPLE: I did an online reading during a residency I did with Studios of Key West.

FOUR. Write out what scares you about the prospect of finishing a project.

This tip may seem obvious, but it also works because it’s so simple. Sometimes as artists, we want and expect so much out of the work that we’re doing. This desire can manifest through the tension that tells us to slow down and to second guess ourselves. As James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

This sentiment is true with the creative process. Dive into the fear. Give it a name. Navigate it like a map and maybe it will reach you something.


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