Day 27: The Fear of Finishing

DSCN0953This past week, I discovered a new form of torture.

It goes like this: I have two to three days of full-blown, all-out writing. I’m talking the best writing days of my life: the I’ve-finally-revised-that-troublesome-scene kind of day, the elusive-climactic-moment-finally-made-right kind of day, the this-is-the-reason-I-do-this, maybe-I’m-decent-at-this-after-all, I-think-all-those-years-were-really-worth-it kind of a day. I’m talking about glorious, beautiful, easy, right-brain writing heaven. When writing IS that thing we tell our parents it is. The days are so good, I think, “My God, two to three more like this and I will finally be DONE!” This, of course, leads to fantasies about book deals and query letters and agents (ahem, call me). I find myself imagining book covers, famous people’s blurbs, and readings that I can give in places I would like to visit. At the end of such a day, I go to bed, stare at my darkened ceiling, and let myself whisper, “I am just about there…”

Then, the next morning– Nothing. Complete and utter agony. Horrified staring at my screen. A complete and utter stall. All joy in writing has vanished. All joy in life has vanished. It is painful, awful work, this writing thing, and while I’m at it, my book is awful, too, and don’t try to argue with me, I know what I know…and oh, does knowledge hurt. I spend a sullen, mournful day watching Law & Order SVU or reruns of The Walking Dead, then I proceed to clean my house. The following day goes much the same. And then the one after that. And then after that until I am at the ecstasy’s polar opposite: the terrible, terrible agony when I worry if I will ever find joy in writing again. I contemplate medical school. I think about a degree in Rhetoric and Writing. I look for a way to return to retail.

The fear of finishing. A quick Google search lead me to a number of forums, blog posts, articles, and even a dissertation where different people–some of them writers–ponder why humans put so much work into a task and then suddenly go into hiding, right there at a project’s most crucial moment: the terrifying end. In a post titled “Whip your fear of finishing,” blogger Chad Schomber explains the phenomenon as follows:

To use a football analogy, going 99 yards is easy. It’s that last yard, crossing over into the end zone, that’s the hardest. The same holds true for writing a novel, designing a logo or filing our taxes. Right when we can see the end, our brains whoa the horses, momentum slows and we sink into procrastination. Why?

Maybe we fear criticism. Or we’re not sure what to do next. Or worst yet, we lack the confidence to say it’s done because it’s not perfect. It’s natural to feel that way. But heed Miles’ advice to Joel in Risky Business: sometimes, you have to say what the fuck, and finish.

Katherine Jenkins, another blogger, discusses her own moment of procrastination at the end of finishing her own book. She writes:

What I’ve come to realize is that dreams are never quite like reality. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dream. You must dream. Just don’t get stuck in the dream. Put a foundation under that dream of yours, otherwise what’s the point? Dreaming and coming up with ideas are the easy part. Seeing your dreams through to the very END is the hard part. Why? Because when you dream about becoming an author or an actor or a painter or a musician or starting a business or changing careers or having a baby or getting married, the pictures of what this life looks like in your mind’s eye are, well, dream-like. You don’t imagine the baby screaming non-stop or the hours of writing with no human contact or the money issues or the lack of work or the economy crashing. Everything in your dream is rosy and cheery and maybe even….perfect!

But nothing is perfect. No one’s life is perfect. I’m not a perfect writer. But I continue because I set this dream into motion. I put the foundations down. I asked for it and I got it and now I have to FINISH IT!

I am reminded of one of the most beautiful and most profound things I ever heard a student say to me. When I asked him why he kept turning in his stories late, he said, “I do not have the heart to write them down. They are so perfect in my head, and none of it comes out like I imagine.” Is the advice for me, here at the end, any different than the advice I once gave to him?

Put the pen to the paper, turn off the excuses, and write.

6 thoughts on “Day 27: The Fear of Finishing

  1. I think that’s why I have a ba-zillion works in process and nothing, except for the bits of flash-fiction I write for blog challenges, completed. I get to a point then quit. It isn’t good enough, it’s a stupid idea, no one will want to read it…etc…etc. So I guess I need to pick one and just finish it and quit worrying whether or not it will be any good…I can worry about that part later. Thanks for your inspiring post. I need to hear these things.

  2. Wow, so true. I find I can get through the draft just fine, but then I stall during revisions. They feel like too much work and I give up and start something new. It’s never good enough and the edits suck all the life out of the piece and I have no energy to go on. What a downer!

    • Anne. just do it! :).

      You know what’s funny? I have been working on this manuscript for so long now that I’ve forgotten what it is to write something brand new. Maybe we can rub off a bit on each other…

  3. THIS was the post I needed to read today, as I stare at piles of paper (chapters 3 and 4) and a blank screen, and convince myself that I suck at this thing. Fear of failure… fear of success.

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