How To Finish What You Start

By Seamus Anthony

I cannot teach you how to become famous nor to be a millionaire, for I am neither. However, if I do have one claim to fame, it’s that I am a tenacious little so-and-so who will get my creative work done, no matter what. Thus, I give you…

How To Finish What You Start (Or ‘How To Complete Your Creative Projects, Even If You’re Broke And Have No Time’)

how to finish your creative projects

Over the years, through working full-time as a freelancer, having children, financial squeezes, feeling sick, feeling tired, feeling depressed and/or anxious, battling addiction and all of the other challenges that life has thrown my way, the one thing I can say that I am an expert at is getting the damn creative work done. I’m a ‘Finisher’, damn it, and sad though it may be, I stake my self-worth on it: Writing music, recording music, throwing gigs, writing blog posts, writing books.

Getting them made, getting them out there, getting them finished.

So if you are having trouble getting your art finished, or even getting started, here’s what works for me:

Start Where You Are

Many people who have plenty of creative talent, still don’t get their art work done. Often the reason they fail to satisfy their own creative urges is because they feel that they can’t do it unless they have the perfect setup.

Here’s the thing, nothing will ever be perfect about your setup and you can’t let an imperfect setup stop you.

I don’t have the perfect writing setup whatsoever. My chair is a little bit uncomfortable, my desk is a bit too high and my mouse is about as ergonomic as a lump of rock. However, I don’t let this stop me from writing.

The reason I don’t let it stop me is because I will not let anything stop me. It’s as simple as that.

Now you might say that you truly need a good space to do your art. And that’s fair enough. However, think about this: Stephen King wrote his first few novels around the pressures of work and parenting, on a desk stuffed into the tiny laundry of the trailer that he lived in with his wife and children.

Now if he can write a number one bestseller like Carrie in a laundry then what excuse do you have really?

Start where you are now. Use what you have now.

If it isn’t perfect who cares? Use it anyway. If you really don’t have what you need to get started then try and borrow it. I have made a lot of albums and I still borrow instruments! I have made a number of CDs and recordings in this manner. Why? because actually the resources that you need are lying about all over the place. It’s an abundant world, don’t let the excuse that you don’t have the perfect set up and all the perfect gear stop you from making your art. There is always a way.

Reduce Living Expenses Where You Can

Yes, it costs money to make art. It might cost a little or it might cost a lot, depends on what you want to make. Writing books requires an investment in a computer, editing and cover art. Making music requires an investment in decent recordings; studio hire and a studio engineer (or all the gear needed to get the music made).

Making art takes time and time is worth money. The more time you spend making art, the less time you have to earn a living. So one of the ways that I make sure that I am able to make art, is to reduce my living expenses where I can. Obviously I don’t want my family to go without some of the nice things in life, however I do expect them to not view me as a merely a human wallet. Yes, I am here to help and provide for the family, that is my responsibility and duty. However, I’m also a human (true!) with real needs. I will be an artist until the day I die and I cannot be happy unless I make my art.

Been living high on the hog for many years but want to write the great novel? Well, maybe you will need to reduce your expectations for a while in order to get the creative work done.

Be Unreasonable

Demand your art time. Demand some space.

Tell your family and friends that they will just have to deal with it. The world is shaped by the unreasonable person.

Steve Jobs made amazing things using his brilliant creative mind by being a particularly unreasonable man to live with. If you are constantly letting other peoples agendas override your own needs, then you will never get to make your art.

Not everybody may be understanding about how deep the need to be creative is in you.

Tough for them.

Just go and make your art.

If it’s easier, don’t even tell them. Better to beg forgiveness later than ask permission prior and get knocked back.

Ultimately it is up to you. It’s your life and if they don’t like it then they just need to get over it.

Obviously I’m not saying that you should be irresponsible. You need to take care of your responsibilities, but you also need to recognise when you are being a doormat and putting other people’s needs in front of your own 100% of the time. This is no way to be happy.

Find Collaborators

Teaming up with other creatives who have equal or more amounts of patience, tenacity, resources, and drive as you is a great way to actually finish your creative projects. I doubt I would have recorded anything more than acoustic demos if I hadn’t teamed up with other great musicians along the way.

Find Patrons

Some people, believe it or not, will be willing to lend you the money that you need to make your art.

Sometimes, they may even be prepared to lend you the money without even demanding repayment. Perhaps they will say to you “pay me back if you can but if you can’t I just want to see you make your art”.

This is more likely to happen if you start where you are using what you have and they can see how serious you are about your creative endeavors.

Back in the ’90s, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, a friend of ours lent me and my then band mates thousands of dollars. He lent it without expecting repayment, so that we could make CDs to sell to our fans.

We sold a lot of CDs and (I think) we re-payed him all of the money, but he always told us that he was just happy that we made the music and made so many fans happy.

Frankly, the fact that someone was actually willing to lend us—three young, hairy, irresponsible rockers—a fistful of dollars to make noise, proves that anything is possible.

Hint: I’ve heard there’s a thing called Kickstarter. Just sayin’…

Schedule Your Time

This has changed my life this year. Up until a few months ago I was never the type of person to schedule my time in a diary. I just didn’t see it as being something creative types like me did. I was happy to go with the flow and just let my inspiration guide me. But recently I was watching a video by Joanna Penn and she suggested that the way to make more time to write books is to schedule your time in the diary.

What a concept!

Schedule your time into your diary when you’re going to do your creative work. Create deadlines for when you are going to finish your creative work.

Seriously, this has changed my life. I have just completed the first draft of a 70,000 word novel in three months because of this one change to the way that I worked. I simply started putting deadlines and scheduled dates into my diary and I took pleasure in ticking the items off as I made that happen. It isn’t a very sexy strategy, but it is probably one of the most important and likely to make you succeed.

Decide

Choose what you’re going to do and stop doing other things.

Decide what the thing is that you’re going to focus on. I have talked about this quite a lot in other blog posts, and I have also struggled with it greatly myself. But the sad truth is, even if you would like to be a writer, a painter, a musician, an entrepreneur, and a sports hero, if you’re struggling to find the time to do even one thing well, then it makes no sense to try and do multiple things.

It can be hard to choose, but there is truth in the cliche: you can do anything but you cannot do everything.

I had to do this with music. I made a tough decision in the interests of efficiency. Now, purely because of limited time, I have parked music for a while and chosen writing as my creative focus.

I’ve said it before: if you observe successful people, the thing that drives most great success is their mono-maniacal obsession. Choose the thing that you love the most and just do that, you can always do the other things later. Better to do one thing well, than to do several things poorly.

Believe me, I know how hard this is, but you have to do it.

Be Harder On Yourself

Ultimately making art (however you define that) requires a certain amount of suffering on the part of the creative person.

Making art can and should feel good some of the time, but the reality is that if you are serious about finishing your projects and having a half-decent output of creative works, then you will need to be hard on yourself sometimes when you just don’t feel like doing it.

This is where scheduling can really help or can fall over. For me I find scheduling helps, but there is still a danger that I may simply decide to ignore what I’ve scheduled because I don’t feel like it that day.

I think artists, creative people in general, start making creative works because they find it pleasurable. But the real difference between finishers and the rest is that finishers understand that there is a dip in the process between the pleasure of starting a new project and the pleasure of completing it. There is always this long bit in the middle where it kind of becomes a drag, a bit like hard work. Where you feel like stopping because you’d rather watch TV. Where you miss your friends and family. Where you don’t even think the idea or the execution of the idea is any good any more.

This is a critical moment.

This is where you must be hard on yourself. You must keep pushing through until you finish the project, even if you are entirely sick of it and of yourself too and you just wish you were out with friends or curled up on the couch with the cat or chocolate or whatever.

Also, don’t wait until you are motivated. Start work even when you are totally uninspired and eventually inspiration will show up. That’s what the pros do. They turn up and do the work even when they don’t feel like it.

Relax: It’s A Marathon Not A Sprint

The flip-side of the above is that you can make your life a little easier (and your creative output more sustainable) if you realise that you don’t need to get it all done this week.

There is no point working yourself into a tizzy, getting stressed, and making yourself sick.

Commit to doing the work and then digging in to chip away. Do a little bit each day and you will eventually get your art work finished in the end.

Yes, it will take longer than you wanted it to.

Yes, you will have to keep going even when you really wish that this idea was done now so you can move on to the new shiny one that you’re currently more in love with.

However if you take a deep breath and schedule your time sensibly then you will actually end up with something that is finished.

My friend Roy writes on the tram here in Melbourne on the way to work in 400 word spurts. He wishes that he could spend all day writing, but he can’t because he has a job. However, by doing these little 400 word sessions on the tram, he will finish his novel.

Look after yourself, set achievable deadlines and schedule what time and energy you can to making something happen. Don’t procrastinate forever, but give yourself time to finish it. It will be a better product in the end if you don’t rush.

Finish One Project At A Time

Try not to have too many unfinished projects on the go. This can be disheartening because ultimately, even though we may sometimes deny it, we do have a certain ‘social setting’ inside of us that wants to show our work (and hence be of value to society). By finishing something, eventually, we start to believe in ourselves as creative workers. By being a finisher, we start to believe that we have value. So try to focus on one project until it is finished and this way you will feel proud of yourself.

I hope that this blog post has been helpful to you, like I said I am not someone who can tell you how to become a millionaire or how to become famous but I do pride myself on being someone who starts and finishes his creative projects.

Why don’t you tell us about yourself in the comments below? What are you committed to finishing next?

Hi, I'm Seamus Anthony. I am an author and musician from Australia. I also love to meditate, help people get creative, keep fit n’ healthy, read (a lot) and chillax with friends and family. Go get your free E-book by me: "Taming The Monkey Mind".

9 comments Write a comment

  1. Love this! Wise words delivered in a direct, all-business manner that us ‘creative types’ can’t shy away from.

    Totally agree with working with what you have, where you have it (cramped home office and uber frustrating non-scroll-y mouse and all), as well as the addition of structure/adhering to a schedule to actually get stuff done. I’m a big believer in making lists and crossing things off them, so this will definitely work for me! Now I just have to decide which shiny creative endeavour to focus on and get stuck into it…

    For interest and as a fun way to conceptualise the whole getting stuff done thing, check out this article about beating procrastination from Wait But Why: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.html

    I find myself thinking about ‘the dark playground’ on the daily…

  2. Pingback: Feel the Self-Loathing And Do It Anyway | Rebel Zen

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