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The agony of finishing is 1000 times worse than the blank page + how to get it done

Starting ain’t nothing compared to finishing

I’ve been starting written pieces for 20 years. I’ve revised far fewer written pieces in that time. And finished even fewer.

Starting is hard. I make a dramatic production most times before I settle into the groove. My arms flail internally and I wish I could smoke just 1 little cigarette to help me get started. Except then I remember that I still went through this when I smoked. Starting is a familiar struggle. I have some tricks up my sleeve to help me settle in. I’ve developed some helpful habits and I have go-to internal pep-talks. I know where to turn for inspiration and I do.

Revising is a different skill. It requires a willingness to let go and move forward. It takes maturity, open-mindedness and faith to inventory what works in service of the story and to let go what doesn’t. Like Faulkner said, you will have to kill your darlings–your darling anecdotes and stories, your darling descriptions and meanderings. Dancing that dance means looking ahead and not internalizing edits as personal failures.

Finishing. Completely different animal. I don’t finish much of anything. When I clean the bathroom, I leave the medicine cabinet door ajar and my tennis shoes in the middle of the floor. It’s good enough, but unfinished. It’s the perfect solution. The messy room is no longer irritating but I don’t have to feel that empty panic that comes with finished.

5 Reasons Why Finishing is So Terrifying

Finishing means memorializing how god-forsaken-awful today’s best is. This is the best of what you’ve got. You know, and I know, that it isn’t good enough. It could be better. It could always be better. Put it down in the history books for posterity, baby. Sarah Yost SUCKED ASS on this day in 2012 even though she thought for a minute that it was AWESOME.  Chilling.

Finishing means facing the gap between what you had hoped to create and the reality of what you actually produced. The novel you’ve been plotting in your mind for 3 years is much better than the one you just wrote. As smarty Crys Williams said, ” Tying a bow on all that potential is difficult.”

Finishing means facing that no unicorns will be waiting when you’re done. At the end of the day, best seller list or not, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s just another circumstance changing. And even though you should be so proud, it’s still just another thing. You still need to take a shower tomorrow, change another diaper, fix another dinner. Life is still life. And you are still you.

Finishing means feeling the feeling of finishing and its attendant terror.

Finishing means letting go of the promise and hope of what this project could be and facing what’s next. It means living with the day-to-day reality of distributing it, cleaning up loose ends, returning the phone calls you let yourself avoid, etc.

Fuel to Get it Done

Listen. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of.

What will be better for you when you’re done?

What will be the same for you when you’re done?

What will be worse when you’re done? Lean in. The answer to this one holds the source of your fear and the road to your freedom.

Be gentle. Be sweet with yourself. Acknowledge that it’s scary. This is not the time to power through or feed yourself a bunch of messages about how you should just get on with it.

Don’t believe yourself. Just because you’re thinking it, believing it and feeling it doesn’t make it true. The mind creates all kinds of diversions to avoid feeling the fear of finishing. If you suddenly need to clean out a room, sell your house, get a divorce, change careers or kill yourself, it’s probably just the fear talking.

Do whatever it takes to get it done. 9 tips that actually work.

  1. Break it down into manageable chunks.
  2. Do something to make it more fun: work alongside a friend or supportive community, with a cup of awesome tea and dark chocolate, wearing a superhero cape, listen to good music
  3. Reward yourself for finishing each chunk. Big reward for finishing completely.
  4. Don’t let yourself start anything else until you completely finish this.
  5. Remind yourself that the only way to improve is to get through this project, for better or worse.
  6. Set a deadline.
  7. Talk about it publicly.
  8. Disassociate completely and hit send. Then bury your head under a pillow until you can deal.
  9. Remind yourself that if it isn’t that good no one will pay attention anyway.






30 Responses to The agony of finishing is 1000 times worse than the blank page + how to get it done

  1. Ellen Stoune August 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Hey Sarah, I always enjoy your posts. Thanks for finishing this one! ha ha

  2. Katie McClain August 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Love this Sarah. I am so closed to finished, and sometimes I get scared, because oh my God, it’s going to be out in the world soon. Scary shit, but it still feels better than not finished. :)

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      Was thinking of you, Katie, as I wrote this. xo

  3. Susan James August 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Were you looking over my shoulder or just reading my mind yesterday when I wrote my blog. I always think that I owe my readers more and better. It’s pure agony…isn’t it?
    For now, I have solved the problem by sending it in draft form to my biggest critic..really! If like Mikey he likes it others will too. So far it works for me.

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      I was reading your mind, Susan. It’s one of my ninja skills.

  4. Ashley Taylor August 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Wow Sarah this is great :) Definitely something that I find myself struggling with lol. I get a little panicked when I get close to the finishing phase of a project! Will it be good enough – what if its not oh dear. What if I need to change something…

    Best thing for me is reminding myself that I will and always will be my own worst critic 😉

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

      You will ALWAYS be your own critic. True! Another thing along that line is to remember that you will always pay a LOT more attention to your own stuff than anyone else does.

  5. Katana Leigh August 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    So true. Thank you for the wisdom- especially that residual desire for a cigarette. They make me sick to my stomach but I still crave a drag from my husband’s smokes.

    I have a whole series of blank canvases, and the potential of the paintings I see in my minds’ eye- a pendulum moon, and cat’s cradle sun, seem like they might be beyond my brushes’ ability, even though I love the small 8×10 study I’ve done.

    Thanks for providing me with the impetus to paint the first stroke.

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      Katana, yes! Looks like you’re still at the BLANK PAGE! HOLY SHIT! phase. Let me know when you get some done.

  6. Mindy Crary August 27, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Great steps! I really identify with this post because I am working on a book this year and we’re not near the finish line, but still, the revising is killing my little darlings! Thanks for the great step-by-step to help me through!

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

      yup! Each stage has its issues, Mindy. Kiss your sweet darlings as you hit delete. :)

  7. Pam Pearson August 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    Great points! When is finished really done?! Is it when I decide it is? Is it when it is good enough? Is it when I run out of time – lol! Your tips are really helpful for getting closer to that finish line. Setting up the mental finish line and going for it — a chunk at a time.
    Okay….I’m finished here!! 😉

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

      Exactly! A chunk at a time!

  8. Sarah Steele | Managing You Academy August 28, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    Hi Sarah – I’m also a ‘nearly done, good enough’ girl and I can see something in the fact that if I declare it done then I can’t say ‘oh, but it’s not finished’ when someone criticizes. Interesting insight. Thanks. Sarah

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

      Mmm hmmm. Right there with ya, Sarah. xo

  9. rebecca @ altared spaces August 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    “Finishing means facing the gap between what you had hoped to create and the reality of what you actually produced.” gold. pure. gold.

    um. no wonder I hate finishing.

    But looking at myself honestly allows for true growth.

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

      I know, right?!

  10. Carla Robertson August 29, 2012 at 1:01 am #

    Sarah, you have such a gift. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. You nailed the issues with finishing on the head. And offered ways to deal with those issues and still be kind to ourselves. Love it and love you!

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

      Oh, sweet Carla! Kindness just has to be at the bottom of all of it, doesn’t it?

  11. Kat Bouchard August 29, 2012 at 2:35 am #

    This is great, it made me laugh as I read it though. I am AMAZING at starting projects, the ideas the plans the action steps it all comes so naturally to me. Revising and finishing is not a strong point for me. Thank goodness for business partners. In my coaching business my mother and biz partner is great at the follow through but struggles to get started. Together we are the perfect duo! Thanks for the great tips!

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      Yup, Kat. Right there with ya. My husband is a terrible starter and an excellent finisher.

  12. Oh yea girl – love this post! You are so on…and one of my fav quotes is “Tying a bow on all that potential is difficult.” That has really resonated with me….and some of my hang-ups with starting/finishing. Thanks for a great finished article luv!
    xo, Tina

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      Oh, yes. You bet!

  13. Randi Buckley August 29, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    This is so bang-on! Nice piece.

    I’ve recently been reading a lot of Steven Pressfield and this is very much in the same vein. He says, “pros finish, amateurs don’t. End of story.” Well there is much than that but I think you offer great how tos that any of his readers would benefit from. Really nice work!

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

      I love Pressfield’s work. I don’t love his CONQUER!!! attitude, but I do love the substance.

  14. Megan Flatt August 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    I have to echo what others have said. I just love your posts and style. I suffer from this big time. Coming up with ideas and starting things is the exciting part, so I do it over and over again. Finishing is the scary part..so we don’t get to that as often. I really love your tips, especially the reward part. I already break projects in smaller chunks, but I love the idea of a little reward after each chunk. Its so much nicer than beating yourself up for what still isn’t done, celebrate what is!
    Thank you!

    • Sarah August 29, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      Awesome! I actually hate the reward idea. It requires some discipline that I don’t want to conjure. Like, if I want something fun, I want it right now! But I know a LOT of people do love rewards–you included.

  15. Yvette Syversen | Business Leverage Expert August 30, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    Sarah – great minds think alike 😉 Love this post and how you have broken things down. Especially, the tip about making things more fun. xo

    • Sarah August 30, 2012 at 3:29 am #

      Oh, girl. That’s my favorite. Boring is my nemesis.

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