Finish It!: How to push your creations to completion

Bringing our big ideas to life takes discipline, commitment and courage

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Most creatives have no problem with coming up with ideas. We enjoy the process of brainstorming, thinking ‘what if’, and dreaming of possibilities.

Making those possibilities a reality, however, is a different story.

Sometimes, instead of being productive creators, we can become professional procrastinators. There’s a big difference between coming up with amazing ideas, and actually making them happen. Here’s what happens when we focus more on thinking of ideas rather than on finishing them.

First of all, we can become overwhelmed by the size of the task. At this stage, some of us decide the big idea is not worth the energy and discipline it will take. We keep our ideas inside a box of ‘only if it’s realistic.’ Which of course, guarantees that we’ll never push a big idea forward.

Secondly, we can lose steam in the midst of bringing our ideas to life. There’s always a reason why something lost steam – there wasn’t enough money, the artists involved didn’t follow through, it wasn’t turning out the way we hoped, etc. We can invent a million reasons why the project didn’t pan out.

Lastly, we can become paralyzed in the creative process. The prospect of releasing our art into the world becomes about perfection and eliminating any possibility of criticism. There’s always one more edit to make, one more brush stroke, another melody we want to add. We can always tell ourselves that it’s our high standards that prevent us from finishing, when in fact it might be the fear of failure.

Each of these reasons bring us back to the point – it’s not how you start, it’s whether you finish.

Deciding when your project or artwork is finished is more about commitment than it is about quality. There will always something we could have changed, another edit we could have made. The process of creative development never ends, but the process of working on your creative project must end. If not, we aren’t creating, we’re just tinkering with ideas that never benefit anyone.

Entrepreneurial guru Seth Godin says it like this: “What you do for a living is not be creative. Everyone is creative. What you do for a living is ship [products, art, etc.]”

Here are some ways to avoid falling into the trap of starting ideas without finishing.

  1. Set a deadline before you begin. Artists are notorious for missing deadlines because we aren’t ready to share our work until it’s “right.” Holding yourself accountable to a date before you ever start is all about eliminating the excuses that delay completion.
  2. Set realistic daily goals. Your work won’t become a masterpiece overnight. Instead of wishing for an epiphany when all of your ideas magically come into focus, look for daily and weekly improvements in your project. It’s the small changes that will make your work come to life.
  3. Set up a process of starting new work. Don’t pin all of your hopes on one project. Before you ever begin a project, determine that once you complete your current work, you will begin the next project. This eliminates the worry that all of your success depends on executing your idea to perfection, and helps you create consistently and confidently.

It seems obvious, but it’s vitally important to understand.  Your creativity is of no use to the world if it remains inside your head, on a notebook, or in a hard drive. Allowing the fear of criticism, failure or imperfection to stop you from releasing your work into the world is a disservice to those that you are called to impact.

At some point, step back, take a deep breath, show the world what you made, and let the chips fall where they may.

To paraphrase the classic Nike line – just finish it.

Share your thoughts: Do you sometimes get stuck in a creative loop that keeps you from finishing your project? How do you handle it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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