I’m a project person. You know the kind who has a half-completed car restoration cocooned under a tarp in the front yard and a kitchen with approximately 3 out of 12 drawers missing pulls. My significant other, Jon, visibly twitches when I stare pensively at something in the house and say “I was thinking…”
I love me a good project, or at least I adore starting them. I have right now in viewing distance from my couch no fewer than 5 projects:
- The barely started knitting from three years ago. It does look pretty in the fabric basket from Ikea.
- Speaking of Ikea, the side panel on the fridge is still missing. That was part of the kitchen remodel from last February
- Another cute Ikea fabric basket contains a selection of naughty cross stitch that I planned to make for Jon (f*ck cancer) for Christmas this year, until I realized how freaking TINY cross stitch is. I mean can’t they make some BIG cross stitch? WTF?
- If we were to move the Ikea Billy book cases, we might (or might not…nod to Schroedinger) find that the wall they are hiding was not painted last spring when I repainted the living room.
- And we’ve not dug into the “Writing” folder on my computer! And I write for a living! People PAY me to write. OK SOPs, technical reports, and user guides, but still! Cha-ching!
I want to finish my stories. The rest of it would be nice but let’s face it those drawers will get pulls about 3 days before we put this house on the market, and I guess I’m OK with that. So what insanity makes me think that THIS YEAR I will actually finish the stories that I have started and keep saying I will finish?
Psychologists say that for people like me it’s all about fear, tedium, and drudgery. We start something all shiny and new but then it turns into something that is actually HARD. It takes work which seems daunting when maybe we’re not sure about the next step.
Sure sounds familiar to me. That sounds like the Chapter 3 Cliff to me. I can slam out three chapters that are funny and smart and move like the wind. I can nail the inciting incident, add some stakes, and then…SLAM. Then I run into a wall. That wall exists at about plot point 1 in the Three-Act Structure: the end of Act 1. Here’s a nifty graphic that I pinched off Twitter from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association.
There is a great article in Psychology Today that walks through this problem and gives you 5 ways to solve it. The first one, is the one that makes the most sense to me:
Become aware of your pattern of starting and stopping.
Based on the examples above, I stop when something becomes less interesting and more tedious (finishing the pulls) or is too hard (knitting), or when I cannot see the next step (Post-chapter 3 writing and that damned cross-stitch).
I can buy a magnifying lamp for the cross stitch but what can I do about the Chapter 3 Cliff?
Let’s take a look at something I have not discussed here yet, that there are very difficult and sometimes tedious things that I do manage to finish. (No really, there are). Like:
- Got a PhD in chemistry
- Restored a vintage Airstream trailer–and finished it!
- Written many Many MANY SOPs, technical reports, and user guides. (Trust me on this, these are tedious)
- Remodeled 4 houses, including all the drawer pulls.
- Taught myself how to code, something I have been working on for years, and continue to do so.
And more. When I put my mind to it, I can finish just about anything I start. I think the commonality between the things I finish is:
- The challenge itself was compelling to me.
- The reward was clear and desirable
- The activity was fun.
I like writing. I like learning new things. I like working with my hands. So, I really should not have the cliff issue! Hmmmm.
I’m not sure I have an answer. But I am sure that I love writing and I will keep doing it. I’ll also keep reading about how others have conquered their Don’t-Always-Finish-Itis. How do they finish? What was the trick that worked? And lastly and most importantly, I will write in a mindful state. I will be aware when I stop, why I am stopping, and jot down what I’m feeling and thinking.
What do you do when you slam into the cliff?