Why the end of a project is so hard and what to do about it

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I’m nearing the end of the third draft of my novel. It’s been big work, practically rewriting the whole thing, and I’ve been at it for over a year.

When I passed the mid point, I assumed the end would be like riding your bike downhill. Fast, thrilling and easy.

Little did I know it’d actually be quite the opposite - like the tiring and hard experience of riding your bike up a very long hill.

And as I struggle through the middle of the end, I ask myself: why is it like this? Why is the end of a project so hard?

The struggles of The End

Advice about the creative process is often focused on the beginning of a project. To find an idea, to get started. And that's great, because without a beginning there's no chance of ever creating anything.

But it's not just the start that is difficult. Finishing a project can be just as hard if not harder, and without that last push you may end up with a bunch of ideas, halfway to completion.

As I've been working through this resistance I’m feeling, I’ve identified a couple of characteristics of the end phase that makes it so hard to get through.

If you find yourself nearing the end of a project and you too are finding it tricky, consider if one of these might be true:

  • You fear your project won't be good enough. You're scared you won't be able to get it to the standard you want it to be, that it's not going to be as you dreamed it would.

  • You worry about the next step, about what happens after you've completed your project. Putting it out there, for the world to judge, to tell you if you did well or not. Staying in the creation zone a little longer feels safe.

  • You have saved problems to fix or loose end to tie up that you have to deal with before your project is finished, and they are overwhelming you. 

  • You're simply fatigued after working on your project for so long, and have lost some of the inspiration along the way. The burning desire of the beginning is gone and you’re not sure it’s such an excellent idea after all.

  • You've got the sense that it all comes down to this, and the pressure is making you stumble and hesitate.

I’ve felt all of these at one point or another as I’m approaching the finish line. Left unchecked, I could easily procrastinate finishing the third draft of my novel for a very long time. But let’s not.

Getting to that last paragraph

At the core of the struggles we tangle ourselves into in the end of a project I think is this: the fear of failure.

Our fear of having worked on something for so long and it turning out to be pretty crappy. Of releasing something precious to an indifferent world. Of our creative dreams coming crashing down.

Of not being good enough.

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And the antidote to this fear, in my opinion, is a softer and less black and white mindset. One where you allow for the outcome to be both beautiful and flawed.

Because nothing is ever perfect, and nothing is ever a complete failure. Maybe it won’t be exactly as you hoped, and that’s just as it should be.

When you’re standing with your bike at the bottom of the last hill, looking up and preparing yourself for that heavy end stretch, here are a few suggestions for the ride.

  • Remind yourself over and over again that perfection is a fantasy. You’ll always have to settle for good enough, if you ever are to get to the other side.

  • Pull out the ideas and notes from the beginning, your project’s groundwork - if they still feel relevant. Remember the spark that got you started and let it guide you.

  • Find time to deal with problems and do work you’ve avoided, it will propel you forward. Make decisions even when it feels scary.

  • Focus on finishing this race, and forget about the next one for now. You can worry about that afterwards.

In my case, I’ll keep repeating in my mind there’ll be a draft four, as I pedal and sweat up my hill of unwritten words.

And if this is your very last stretch, remind yourself that no one project will define you. While this is one end, it’s also the beginning of something new.

 
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