Learn the Art of Finishing What You Start

Finishing art
Not Finished Yet, copyright © 2018 Gigi Rosenberg, Used with permission.

Most artists I know (myself included) have dozens of projects. These half-done, never-seen-the-light-of-day “things” can feel like zombies lumbering around your studio. When I look at my files or the notebooks on my shelf and I see the title of a novel, a play and several essays I started and never finished, I feel guilty, sad and enervated.

I’ve decided to make 2018 my year of finishing. Will you join me? These are the steps I’m taking, and I encourage you to take to finish those half-done energy drainers.

Before I reveal my steps, I have to remind you that not every project needs to be finished as in “completed.” Maybe fooling around with one project was all you needed to do and it’s “finished for now.”

Here are the steps you can start today to bring your projects to their own form of completion:

1) GATHER THE PROJECTS together on a list and number them just so you can keep track of how many you have.

2) LET DISTANCE BE YOUR FRIEND. You haven’t even looked at some of these projects in years. This is a good thing. Your distance helps you see the project with fresh eyes. I actually published a couple of pieces after getting distance from them and realizing that they were done and the only step I hadn’t completed was sending them out. I was a good judge of their readiness because I could judge the work like a stranger.

3) DECIDE ON THE NEXT STEP for the projects that aren’t yet finished. These are your choices: put it away again, take the next step with it, or throw it away. Let’s unpack these:

4) IF YOU DECIDE TO PUT THE PROJECT AWAY AGAIN, REALLY PUT IT AWAY. That means you put it out of your sight into a folder, a box or another room with a note on it that says “finished for now.” Let it rest out of your psychic and physical space.

5) IF YOU DECIDE TO TAKE A NEXT STEP, DO THAT STEP WITH ANOTHER PERSON or make it time-limited. For example, make a date with a colleague to show them the work and discuss next steps or hire an editor or advisor for a critique session or set a timer and work on it for 30 minutes. All these steps will bring life back into the project.

6) YOU CAN THROW THE PROJECT AWAY. If your project is a big sculpture that’s taking up a lot of space, and it’s really over, take some photos, give it a hug and throw it away. Clear out your life for your next chapter.

7) REDUCE YOUR MASTER LIST OF PROJECTS down to the one to three you will finish this year.

8) FEELINGS MAY COME UP IN THIS PROCESS, like sadness (the project never turned out as well as you wanted it to), relief (it’s done or done for now!), joy (this is damn good and now I can show the world!) or regret (I should have finished this sooner).

9) GIVE MORE ATTENTION TO THE POSITIVE FEELINGS like joy and relief. For some strange reason, it’s often easier to focus on the bad feelings like sadness and regret and harder to focus on happiness. So, attempt to feel happiness and notice what that’s like.

10) PUT ALL YOUR PROJECTS ON A SCHEDULE. Now that you have 1-3 projects that you will finish this year and you’ve cleared the zombies out, get to work. Schedule it, build a community around it, hire help, trade expertise and get it done.

Then, write and tell me how it all turned out. Or comment below to let me know how you will begin this 10-step process. I can’t wait to hear.

Gigi Rosenberg is an author, artist coach and editor of Professional Artist. She wrote The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing (Watson-Guptill) and coaches artists to help them find funding, blast through creative blocks and launch vibrant marketing plans. To download “5 Steps to Your Elevator Speech,” visit gigirosenberg.com.