How it Feels to Finish a Project

by | Nov 30, 2021

There comes a time when you tick off everything on your revision to-do list and call the project “done.” It’s a moment of stunned exhilaration–a rush of excitement at crossing a self-determined finish line paired with a kind of disbelief that you made it.

Though none of us ever ends up creating exactly what we set out to create, with enough persistence our initial aims eventually reach some kind of target. And that happened for me last week. I finished my revisions for my non-fiction book.

It feels… strange. In part because other lists have been breeding in the background, all the what-to-do-next tasks, and there are plenty! But this moment arrives one day, a moment of completion. It’s as whole, clear, and delightful as a breath-blown soap bubble, rainbow-tinted, light, and… temporary. It must be savored.

I did reach the end of my revision list, but (as those who’ve been there know) I could easily keep adding more to it, keep striving for improvement. So how do I know I’m done?

Something subtle inside has shifted, and with it an awareness that a significant phase of work is complete. Paul Valéry is credited for saying, “A work is never completed, but merely abandoned.” (Fuller translated quote below.) And I can’t deny I have that feeling of wanting to give up and turn away from the project now. But it has a different quality than procrastination or resistance.

How do we trust this inner sense that something’s done? It’s a little like trusting a new friend or lover. We can’t be totally sure we’re right, but we go with it anyway, aware of our vulnerabilities but willing to see where this next stage takes us.

Done never means perfect. In fact, for a writer to complete a project, s/he has to have made peace with imperfection. Completion can never lead to perfection, but it can lead to value. And that’s what we should be aiming for. I can say, without a doubt, that the book I’ve finished isn’t perfect, but I believe it has value.

For creators of any kind, a desire to make things is underpinned by a desire to contribute value to the world in some way. We work on projects that matter to us, and we hope, one day, they’ll matter to someone else too.

I’ll keep you posted on my next steps as I proceed. For the moment, I am breathing a sigh of relief to be done (for now ).

My work involves coaching other writers on their paths to completion. Sometimes I play a large role and sometimes a very small one. I reached out a few writers I know who have recently finished first drafts or revisions and I asked them how they feel when they finish something. Here’s what they said:

Once I write the final sentence it feels as if I have returned home from a long trip. Happy to be back again but I know there lies ahead of me a good deal of unpacking, and laundry, before I can settle in again.

~ Bromme C., working title: When Soft Voices Die

Even after working on the book for over two years, the realization that it was finished seemed to come out of nowhere. I think of whipping cream by hand, you keep whipping and whipping you’re about to lose hope, suddenly there is the cream with perfect peaks. So many endeavors require a leap of faith. I was elated when I realize the book was done. That feeling stayed with me and helped push aside doubts as I started a new novel. It’s a short novella but I do think of myself differently now that I have finished it, and I see the book differently as well, as something that exists separate from me.

~ Melanie D., working title: People Who Love You

The lady at Staples handed six copies to me, 350 pages each bound with a blue cardboard front and back cover. They were heavy, but my spirit was light as I waltzed to my car carrying the manuscripts, the first draft of my first novel after five years. Now it’s out there, being read by my beta readers. I feel a liberated sense of achievement. I know I still have more work to do on it, but I’m motivated to return reinvigorated with ideas to, in the words of Paul McCartney, “Make it better!”

~ Ariela S., working title, Survival

When I finished my novel and sent the requested draft to an agent, I felt an incredible sense of both momentum and lightness. Finishing energy feels wholly different from starting a project and requires laser concentration, patience and kindness to self. Letting go of your story into the world requires humility and courage.

~ Elena K., working title: Spotlights and Shadows

Thanks for sharing such wise, personal insights. And congratulations to you all!! Can’t wait to see these stories in print!


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