Why, oh why is finishing so hard?
Say you have an essay. Say it’s about a topic near and dear to your heart and whatever intellectual pretentions you might have. Say this essay is in its second draft, more or less, and you think it’s going somewhere interesting. Assuming, of course, that this hypothetical essay actually communicates what you want it to, which assumes that whatever hypothetical audience sees it is actually making an effort to read between the lines. There aren’t many lines to read between, after all, and they don’t know the context that created it, but if our hypothetical author can’t have some faith in readers, there wasn’t any point in writing it to begin with.
What, then, makes it so hard to let go of this hypothetical essay, call it finished, and send it out into the wide and frightening world of publishing?
I can make some guesses – there’s the obvious, that the hypothetical author is terrified of rejection. It might be that our hypothetical author is concerned about having something so vicious out there attached to her name. It might just be that our hypothetical author is a perfectionist, which seems to be something every writer who cares about craft struggles with.
Oh, and let’s admit it, there’s a question in the hypothetical author’s mind – what right does she have to pass harsh and sweeping judgement on a cultural and technological icon? …That, I think I can answer to my own satisfaction, so ignore it for now.
And there’s the question of whether or not this is about the process or the end product. It might be a waste of time to stop somewhere in the middle, and it’s clear that the middle is that stage before the creator lets go.
Finishing is moving on, and letting go of something you’ve worked on for ages. Sometimes that’s just a relief, but unfortunately not often. Part of the problem is that finishing is usually the longest stage of a project. It contains all the fiddly details that you ignored when you were in the middle of whatever it was because they weren’t vital, and all the criticism. Admitting that you’ve done everything you can, and it’s not quite perfect, is difficult at best. Especially if you want to reach an audience. They’re going to judge you on what you have done, not what you think you could do.
Our hypothetical author is too close to the piece at hand to tell if it’s actually as good as it ought to be.
Even if it is worth other people’s time, where should it go? There are so many options, even for this short of an essay. If our hypothetical author cares about the piece, it ought to go somewhere perfect. Do you start out small, or do you aim high and brace for failure?
What’s it like, being in the slush pile?
They say that challenging yourself is useful, though. Which is, as far as learning things go, absolutely true. Yet another thing I’m learning over and over again from spinning, in fact. I have a distinct and possibly ridiculously high goal, which I am probably thousands of ounces of fiber from achieving, but in the effort I’m getting better at making something that is pretty good yarn.
Probably the answer is aim high, accept failure, and keep doing it until it comes out right. I think that’s what all the advice I’ve ever gotten sums up to.