How to Finish What You Start – 3 Tips for the Anxious Writer


My newsletter has needed a revamp for many moons. It’s one of those things that’s been on my to-do list for ages but always gets bumped back in favour of client work, or writing, or anything else that’s way more fun.
But since one of my 2016 goals is to improve Faery Ink Press sales, one night I finally sat down and outlined The Perfect Newsletter. It had all kinds of cool things in it. The You-Choose stuff. Links to stuff I’m doing, but also links to what my creative friends are doing, and cool stuff that relates to the Faery Ink Press brand. From there I also redesigned the newsletter template to match my website’s new look. Things felt good. They felt right. I wrote up the majority of the newsletter draft.
Key word there being “majority.”
When you exercise your creative muscles regularly, you start to figure out your natural rhythms. My natural rhythm is: get excited about a project. Write down ideas and projected outcomes. Work on the project until the excitement or the hours in the day run out.
And then…I get a new idea. Or a new project gets dropped in my lap. The passion for my current project has flickered out. It’s yesterday’s candle. What’s more fun: lighting a brand new, fresh candle with an undiscovered scent, or returning to a used bit of wax and string?
For me, the last ten percent of a project isn’t just the hardest–it’s an insurmountable wall. I will put it off for days or months, not because I can’t make time for it, but because with every day that passes that I don’t work on it, my anxiety surrounding the project grows. I haven’t worked on this story for months–I can’t go back to it today. I can go back to it tomorrow. It’s that chronic anxiety-fueled procrastination that builds up the project in my mind, and eventually becomes so anxiety-filled itself that I can’t touch it without stressing myself out.
Scheduling a time to complete the tainted work is only successful about half the time. It’s easy when you work for yourself to shift projects around. Usually the project I’m putting off is mine, and what’s worse, I’m more likely to prioritize my client work. Saying, “I’ll work on this tomorrow afternoon” is all well and good until you actually arrive in the moment, and the anxiety overtakes you, or a client calls with a pressing issue that you need to take care of.
You’re probably wondering at this point how I get anything done.
Well…I have to trick my mind.
“Let’s just open the document and take a peek. Peeking is not a commitment,” I will say.
Yes, that sounds good, says my brain. Looking is safe.
“Hmm,” I’ll say. “Well, this is mostly done. As I suspected. All I have to do is A, B, and C. And I can do C right now.”
Tip #1: Do the easiest thing first.
Oh, my brain says. Okay, we can do C. But A and B are SO HARD. They will take HOURS and they are very boring and why don’t we check YouTube for that upbeat song maybe?
“Okay, C is done. A and B are hard.” This is the first test. I have a calming music list that I will put on at the beginning of this session if I’m especially worked up over the project. “But let’s evaluate. Do we really need A in this project?”
Hmm, you’re right! I feel much better if we remove A completely.
Tip #2: Evaluate all aspects of the unfinished project. If it can function without this piece of the project, remove it, or insert it in a later incarnation.
“That part is gone. Wow, I feel so much better. We just have one part left.”
This is a critical juncture. It’s very easy at this moment for me to leave the project and not return to it until I absolutely have to. After all, I’ve accomplished TWO things–that deserves a reward! Sometimes I give in and reward myself with a little break, or I work on another project.
Tip #3: Almost Doesn’t Count. Reward the 100% – not the 99.9%.
To do this, I take a hard look at the remaining work. How long do I think this is going to take me? Knowing how many woman-hours are left quantifies the project, which makes everything seem more achievable. If I know I have half an hour left, then that means it’s T-30 minutes until a reward. Which makes me work harder.
I also break down the tasks remaining. Does this last leg of the journey require me to do some research? Sign up for a service? Go back to a previous draft and cross-reference a world-building fact? You’d be surprised how small tasks can seem daunting after hours spent on one project. That’s why I need to break it down into steps and quantify the time I need to spend to get it done to move forward.
“I just need to do this one little thing that will take me two minutes, and then I can fill in this blank, then we’re done!”
Oh, really? Is that it? Are you sure? My brain panics at the last moment.
“Really sure. Look, I’ve gone and done it. We’re totally done.”
Cue a huge wave of relief. Silly brain, getting all worked up!
Allowing projects to grow out of proportion is a danger when you’re juggling a lot of different things. By tackling almost-finished projects and re-evaluating the remaining work, you will eliminate unneeded burdens and be able to focus on the things that are actually important on your list.


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  • I do number 1 at my day job all the time. I knock out the small and easy tasks first then tackle the bigger things. Although, sometimes by that point, my coworkers are in and I can make them do the bigger things. Perks of being in charge. XD

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