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How to Finish That Creative Masterpiece

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: getting started is half the battle. And the other half? Finishing. It might sound simplistic, but when it really boils down to it, the only way anyone ever accomplishes anything is by (1) starting, and (2) finishing. I’ve written a few times about the power of getting started (like in this post about using time wisely, and this one about breaking free from perfectionism). Today, I want to talk about how to finish that creative masterpiece.

How to finish that creative masterpiece

Creatives get a bad rap for being starters, not finishers. That is, many creative people bounce around from project to project without finishing the first project. Of course, this isn’t true for all creatives, but in my work as a creative coach, it’s a complaint I hear often.

As I said above, getting started is great. It’s important, and you should always give yourself credit for starting. But now, it’s time to figure out how to finish your creative masterpiece so that it can benefit your life and the world in the way you always dreamed of.

Here are some things that can help.

Keep your vision in mind.

When we start a project, we usually have a big vision about what it is going to be—impactful, meaningful, persuasive, profitable, and so on. It’s that vision that gets us going in the first place. But a lot of times, people who give up on projects do so because they lose sight of that original vision. 

Don’t let that happen to you. Every time you sit down to work on your project, remind yourself of the vision. You could do this by looking at a vision board, reading a mantra, or even reciting a full-blown vision or mission statement for your project. It doesn’t matter how you do it; all that matters is that you are reminded why you care about this work. That will keep you going when the going gets tough.

Have a plan.

Planning doesn’t usually come as naturally to creatives as vision does. I’ve noticed that it is often easier for creatives to have an abstract goal for their project, rather than a developed plan. But if you are going to finish that creative masterpiece, some kind of plan is going to be a huge asset.

Your plan doesn’t have to be uber specific or set in stone. It just has to give you some idea as to how this project is going to get completed.

Here are some creativity-friendly tips for planning:

  • Know when you are most creative. Are you inspired by early mornings? Do your best ideas come right before bed? Do you find yourself daydreaming during your lunch break? Knowing your most creative times will help you take advantage of them.
  • Make a schedule. Your schedule can be as strict or as loose as you want. You can specify what you’re going to do every day, or vaguely outline what you want to get done in a week. You can break your days down hour by hour, or you can make each day more goal-oriented. However you choose to do it, some level of structure will help you get to the finish line.
  • Have a place to go. Planning isn’t only about time; it’s also about place. You need to make sure you have a place to work on your creative project that is mostly free from distractions and interruptions. 

Having a game plan will help you see that your project is actually doable, and that realization will propel you forward. 

Take it bird by bird.

In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she talks about her brother trying to complete a school project when they were younger—a project about birds. She remembers her brother feeling overwhelmed, and her dad giving him the advice to just take it “bird by bird,” meaning one step at a time.

When we’re trying to finish a creative masterpiece, it’s easy to get impatient. We care about the project so much, and we just want it to be done and out in the world. We have a vision for where it’s going, and we just want to skip all the middle steps and end up there.

But if you really, truly want to finish, you have to fight the urge to think that way. You have to push back against impatience and realize that if you are going to finish that creative masterpiece, you’re going to have to do it bird by bird.

Give yourself time, and give yourself grace. Remind yourself that the end result will be better if you do it right. It may be frustrating at times, but it will pay off in the end.

Course correct when needed.

It’s only natural that your project will evolve as you go. Sometimes, when we start to think about new possibilities for our projects, we can get so overwhelmed that it gets tempting to scrap the whole thing. That’s no way to actually get the work done.

If you want to finish your creative masterpiece, give yourself the space for evolution and change, but make sure that each change you make is deliberate and needed. If you start to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities, step back and give it some thought. Decide on the best path forward, and start moving again. 

Forgive yourself for non-productive times.

No matter how determined you are to finish, there are going to be days when the work just doesn’t happen. You might get sick, or have a family emergency come up, or face a tough deadline at work. You might go days, weeks, or even months without working on your creative project.

Is that ideal? Of course not. But the only thing that can make it worse is beating yourself up about it. 

If (and when) you go through these slumps, learn to forgive yourself and move on. Shake off the guilt and get back on track.

Decide to ship it.

“Done is better than perfect.”

Sheryl Sandberg

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich is famously quoted as saying, “We don’t ever finish a film. I could keep on making it better. We’re just forced to release it.”

You could work on your creative masterpiece for your entire life. You could perfect every flaw, undo and redo until the details are just right, and refuse to put it “out there” until you are absolutely confident that your work is beyond scrutiny, and it is everything you ever wanted it to be and more.

But the reality is, that isn’t going to serve your creative life. In fact, it’s going to hold you back. Sometimes, the best way to finish your creative masterpiece is to decide that it is finished. 

At some point, you have to step away. Yes, it might be sad or scary. But it is also a key part of the creative process. Because once you finish one project, you are free to start the next one.

Completing a creative project is every bit as difficult—and every bit as important—as starting one. But now that you know how to finish that creative masterpiece, there is really nothing left to do but to get to work.

The world needs what only you can create. Don’t let your work go unfinished.

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