Traditionally, I have been worse than average at finishing things. Part of that is due to my basic nature – I fly full-force at a project and need some external impetus (a deadline, etc.) to finish. Recently, though, I have noticed that I finish a far greater percentage of what I start. Part of that is the limits placed upon my time; working around a child and a husband who works long hours forces you to make clear choices about how to spend that most precious of commodities. Part of it, though, may have something to do with skill. I’ve gotten better at what I do in recent years. Quite a bit better.
Now most people who have a hobby have a pile of half-completed projects of varying sorts. Some people have a small basket, some a large room or garage. I’ve even met people who effectively had a basement devoted to “projects yet to complete”.
Quilters call them UFOs (unfinishied objects) and treat them with a combined attitude of benevolence, bemusement, resignation, and pride. You can detect clear notes of both pride and encumbrance in the mix; a pride in having had an idea and started it and a feeling of being weighed down by an unfulfilled obligation. Most of those UFOs never get completed, but they sit there as a testimonial to the creative ideas and executional failings of the individual. Which is fine, to a certain extent, but wouldn’t it be better if they became what the originator actually foresaw or, even better, something more?
Having done what I do for (oh help) around ten years or more, I can honestly say that when I started, I had more ambition than skill and more talent than training. Now that I’ve slogged at it (and part of artistry is slogging, make no mistake) for a decade, it’s possible for me to look back on who I was and recognise the same symptoms in other people.
When I started, I probably finished one out of three pieces that I started. Some were abandoned due to lack of time. Some left me due to my recognition that they weren’t such hot ideas after all. Most, however, stalled at some point because I didn’t have the technical skill or artistic ability to push them into the next stage.
Now, I finish rought nine tenths of what I start work on. Elimination happens in the planning on paper stage. I still encounter those impasses in which you stare blankly at a piece and try to figure out what it needs, but generally I come up with a solution in short order. Part of this is a self-recognition; I need deadlines and now I make certain that I have them. But part is an ability to see the project through its trials and tribulations.
In the past year, I’ve done some slate-clearing with regards to residual UFOs from years gone by. As you get better and the UFOs get older, they start to taunt you and haunt you. They’re no longer cute in any way, but rather a painful list of things you didn’t or couldn’t do. So here’s my remedy:
- rename them. They’re not UFOs (a cute name) but projects in limbo
- categorise projects in limbo as
- valuable for sentimental reasons (that quilt your grandmother started, for instance)
- stupid ideas or bad execution of no real value to you
- things that could be disassembled for materials, cut up and reintegrated in a new way into a current work. This includes things that could be painted over, frayed, burned, or in some other way rendered useful.
- things that should be finished
- pick up each project only once and make a final decision about it before you put it down again
- go with your gut insinct, but overrule your packrat voice
- pack up category one and label “For My Children” – don’t think of it as an obligation but an heirloom.
- put category two and all of its bits and pieces into a bag. Put all the bags in a box. Contact your local craft association or quilt guild. They often have fundraising sales or give materials to charities. Get them out of your house.
- pack up category three and think of them not as UFOs, but rather, pieces to be worked into other things.
- put category four items in workbaskets and start working on them within the week. If you hate every second, turn them into category threes or twos and get them off your plate. If you haven’t finished or made substantial progress on them within six months, ditch them.
- The hardest part is deciding whether something is category two, three or four. When in doubt, throw it out. Trust me. If you’ve gotten better at what you do, you have enough skill to redo something better than the obkect you’re pitching.
- By passing things along to charities or recycling them, you can assuage your “waste not” demon. Someone else will view them as treasures.
Ultimately, what you create for yourself is more physical space and less mental clutter.
There’s no shame in recognising that, at some point, for a variety of reasons, you couldn’t finish a bunch of projects. That’s no reason to let them bog you down mentally. Take note of your recent pursuits… have you finished more in recent years than you did in the past? How have your improved abilities made this easier? Don’t you owe it to yourself to clear some clutter (both physically and mentally) and to move forward in keeping with your creative and technical talents? Don’t you owe it to the projects you started to get them off the shelf and into some sort of finished state?
Go on! You can do it! Step out of the murk and mire of your unfinished projects.
Notice the lack of emphasis on actually finishing them – you’ll probably find that things that have sat for a year or more simply aren’t worth it.