I had an interesting conversation with my sister, a talented artist, the other day. We got way off topic and ended up discussing her creative process, and how she has been notorious her whole life for NOT finishing her projects, whether it was sewing, knitting, painting or any other medium. Growing up, I remember her always having many projects going, and from many came few “masterpieces.” She confided in me that until a few years ago, she honestly thought there was something wrong with her, that maybe she had ADD or something, because it was a flaw to not finish things.
Yes, we live in a society that gauges success by accomplishments, and finishing things marks an accomplishment of sorts. It’s easy sometimes to feel like a failure when you do NOT finish things. But my sister went on to tell me that after much exploration of herself and reading and learning about the creative process, she realized that those unfinished works of art were part of the creative process. “Not every work of art is supposed to be finished,” she said. “It’s the work that inspires you that you drive to the end.”
I realized she was right about that. But we did not grow up in a world that allowed for unfinished projects, and therefore she felt that something was wrong. I, on the other hand, think I simply set aside my creative self for the more practical aspect of being rewarded for finishing projects, such as in working or doing mundane tasks to accomplish the goal and not spending my free time creating as she did. But as she discussed this “finishing-things complex” with me, I realized that I am not a finisher either. The older I have gotten and the more I have built my life around my creative side, the more I set the somewhat practical matter-of-fact-conquer-all-to-equal-success self aside for a much more pliable and pleasing side of me. This is what led me into marketing, which really can be a creative career. The more I have allowed this other side to come out, the more unfinished projects I have developed.
Through the years I have struggled with an internal monologue that unfinished projects are not good and equate to some sort of lack of success. I told my sister, “I am a writer–I have realized this is at the core of who I am.” I have not written any books yet, but I have many outlines for ideas and I have loads of half-written blog posts, ideas and concepts. Unfinished projects! I realized that was ok that my computer was filled with these unfinished projects, as it is part of my process to the finished projects. I write a fair amount for my blog and for clients. I have a lot of finished projects. I get my stuff done. Yet, it is the unfinished work that holds so much value.
This was a revelation, reframing my unfinished, often personal writing as a success and valuable changes my perception of my process. It is through the unfinished work that I am led to the ideas and the creative ventures that make me “successful” in the eyes of the world–successful in that I have finished work that people pay me for. Successful in that my brain functions creatively, and that is what I offer my clients, who hire me to be the brains behind their marketing campaigns.
My creativity is fueled by the things I am working on that may or may not ever be finished. They feed my soul. And yes, when I finish a piece of great writing, it feels amazing, just like when I finish a project for a client, and I know that I have given my whole creative self. Just like when I finish a project around the house, like finally building the garden that has been in process for five years–it took time, but my creative process could not be rushed. The next time you lament that you are not finishing your personal projects or you have a pile of things that just don’t seem to garner your attention in your personal life, or the books you have yet to finish reading, I say this: go easy on yourself. It’s part of your process, the process that allows you to be innovative, creative and build the life and career that fits you. — Photo Credit 1 Photo Credit 2