I am not by nature a finisher.
This is a trait of mine that has always annoyed me. I’m not really troubled by my procrastination, because I’m always able to get my work done, even if it means an all nighter on occasion, and my grades or job has never suffered for it. On reflection though, it’s probably part of the same thing.
There’s something in me that hates finishing a project. I’ll start almost anything with gusto, but those last little bits of a project irritate me, and I leave them unfinished. I have a thousand examples of this, most notably my undergraduate English thesis. It was a 75 page opus comparing depictions of childhood in the writings of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. My thesis advisor kept suggesting ideas to add, and I dutifully added all of them. I read critical article after critical article, and read through Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer. I structured a thoughtful comparative analysis and drew conclusions about the American spirit of adventure and stuff. And then I never proofread the essay. It’s sitting there in the library of Hartwick College with (citation needed) in some places, instead of the actual article I was talking about, and probably more than a few typos.
This is me all over. I’ll undertake these huge, complicated projects, and never complete them. I really enjoy handicrafts, including counted cross stitch. In my lifetime I’ve undertaken several tapestry-like cross stitch projects only to abandon them, uncompleted.
I recently experienced something of a victory though. I decided I was going to make Christmas presents this year for my sister and sister-in-law. For my sister I did a table runner in lace crochet and edged napkins to match, and for my sister-in-law I embroidered a cushion. I was frantically sewing the cushion on Christmas eve, but all were completed and well received.
This has left me with a flush of pride. I finished something, and it went over really well. My sister is emphatic that I need to start an Etsy store, and I started daydreaming about it. It makes perfect sense–I do this stuff anyway, and MR is not one for superfluous decoration, so the stuff I make wouldn’t find a home in our house. (Sidenote: I realize I could battle him on this one and force him to have some doilies, but we’ve been doing pretty well making our decorative tastes meet when it comes to our new house, so I see no need to rock the boat. Besides, there are really only so many doilies a person can have lying around.) I could do something I do for fun and get paid for it. Boxing Day morning I lay in bed daydreaming of taking orders and finishing them off, and charging tidy sums for said projects because so much work goes into them, which would be very nice as we could certainly use the money.
When MR woke up, I told him of my plan, he frowned and grew thoughtful. Then he told me I shouldn’t do it. I was surprised, because a common theme among us lately is how without me working, we could really use a little more money. Not a lot, just a bit more to make us more comfortable. He said he worried how I would handle multiple orders–which is a good point. But more than that, he said he noticed that working on those Christmas presents had really taken me away from my writing, and that he doesn’t want to see that become a pipe dream.
There is a lot of truth to this. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I certainly have a lot of projects begun, but I have very few finished ones. Very few indeed–I have one complete novel draft, a handful of short stories (all written for assignments), and a few fan fictions. There’s a novel I had an idea for when I was 15 that is as yet incomplete. I did National Novel Writing Month one year and got the aforementioned novel draft, which is frankly terrible and needs a major overhaul. I did it again and wrote 50,000 words, but didn’t come close to finishing the story. I did it this year and I didn’t finish.
But I finished those napkins, and that table runner, and that pillow. And the fact remains that while crocheting and embroidery take some skill and time, they don’t require a lot of brain power. I can sit there stitching and watching endless hours of junk tv. Writing is a much, much harder creative task, and maybe there’s some truth in the fact that I’m avoiding it. Because I think I won’t finish. Because I’m scared that if I do finish, I’ll fail. So it’s easier to imagine myself an Etsy queen than to face the beast of fear and wrestle with my creativity. The fact remains, however, that for years I have called myself a writer. I have shaped my schooling around being a writer. As a kid I never said I wanted to crochet for a living. I wanted to write.
I’m lucky that my husband takes me seriously when I say I want to write. I used to think that a lot of people didn’t believe how serious I was about writing. I don’t really blame them–there are a lot of people out there who say they’re writers, but never seem to produce any writing. I could all too easily be classed as one of them. But at a critical moment when I’m thinking of hiding he says no, I need to go for my dream. He helps me make plans for how to market myself when my book is done. Part of his Christmas present to me is a website for my writing, in all its forms.
It’s easy to get sidetracked from your dreams, and I think that’s really what leads to them never happening. Fear that it’s too hard or that we’re not good enough plague us at every turn, and it’s all too easy to find an excuse to turn away, say we’re too busy, say that something else came up, misquote John Lennon and say “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” That’s true–life surprises us. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make plans. Dreams take more than ideas. Just because you envision yourself as something doesn’t mean you are that–it takes work to get there. Lots of hard work, and lots of little details to see to before crossing the finish line. That’s what makes any creative endeavor a marathon. If I get my act in gear, then maybe I can be as prolific as the writers I analyzed.