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Hesitant to Finish

I am resistant to finishing things.

It sounds ridiculous typed out like that. I mean, the point of starting a project is to have a finish product. In this case, it’s to have a finished story, and having a finished story is an amazing feeling! But even though I know that, I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to finish one pass and move on to the next. For me that hesitation comes down to three anxious questions:

  • What next?
  • Will I have another good idea?
  • But is it really done?


What Next?

This is a question that isn’t just about what project will I work on next, but how will I structure that project? What will my days be like? What is the routine?

I like ruts. I love working in ruts because I know how much work I’ll get done each day, when I’ll start, and roughly what I’ll do while I work. It’s comfortable and consistent and I am super productive once I have a well-worn rut. But getting that rut going is difficult. Figuring out the best way to work on a project takes time and patience, and often means experimenting with new workflows—new ruts—until I find the right one for the project (or for that stage of the project). As a project winds down, so do I, dragging out the last few tasks in anticipation of having to carve a new rut.

I haven’t figured out how to battle this question. The simple solution seems to be to develop a rut for each stage of writing, but every book I’ve worked on has been different, so that means the process isn’t cookie-cutter. For some books I’ve followed a structured outline, and for others I wrote scenes out of order. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough experience with each kind of workflow to immediately know how I’ll attack it, but for now I have to find other methods to banish my worries about what happens next.


Will I Have Another Good Idea?

Well. Will I???

The idea that what I’m writing will be the last thing I ever write is one of the most ridiculous anxious thoughts I could have, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking it nearly every time I near the end of a project. Obviously I’m going to write something else. Even through periods when I wasn’t as creative or productive, I never stopped getting ideas for stories. But this is anxiety talking and anxiety doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, so it throws out fearful doubts like this.

There’s no real defense against an anxious thought, except to not entertain it. I’ve gotten better at ignoring this question over the years, but sometimes it still catches me off guard and slows down my progress, keeping me from crossing the finish line so I can linger in my “last” good idea.


But Is It Really Done?

Of all the anxious questions I have that disrupt my productivity, this is the one that I actually have to answer. Figuring out if a project is actually finished is key to, you know, finishing the project. The problem is when this idea turns from productive checking in with the story to obsessing over commas, prepositions, and if I should start swapping around scenes just to see what it looks like.

I typically use revision checklists to keep myself on track and to eventually identify a stopping point. Sometimes I need to add things to the list—maybe during copyediting I uncover another crutch phrase, so I want to double back to search for that phrase, or I might finally figure out how to condense two scenes—but mostly I stick to the list and when the list is done, I’m done. Having that list as a definitive end point helps stop me from obsessing because I have something tangible to point to that says the story is done.

 

Knowing my weaknesses and having strategies to overcome them certainly helps, but it doesn’t stop me from struggling with finishing projects. Hopefully with continued practice it will get easier as time goes on.

Are there any aspects of finishing writing projects that stymie you? How do you over come those obstacles?

Weird Ways to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety has been my companion through most of my adult life. Most people wouldn’t know this about me because I am so totally chill about everything, yo. (I made a joke about my NaNoWriMo co-ML and I that his job was talking and my job was planning and panicking—it’s an even division of labor.) Seriously, I do a fair job of managing my stress and anxiety, and mostly it’s through normal means, like taking a walk, taking a nap, or watching a funny movie. But I also manage it through some unusual means, and so I’m here to break down: The Top Three Weird Ways I Manage My Anxiety.


1. Memorization/Recitation

I am an avid fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve seen all the episodes, read a ridiculous number of books and comic books, tracked down interviews and read behind the scenes books. I know quotes, actor names, random factoids, and the name of every episode.

Let me clarify, I know the name of every episode in order. Forward and backward. With episode numbers.

There are 144 episodes of Buffy and when I’m feeling stressed out, I head over to Sporcle to play my favorite Buffy episode quiz. The quiz is simple—you write the episode title and it fills in on the list. And even though I know all the episodes, sometimes I’m a little rusty, or I remember them out of order, so I play the game over and over until I have the order correct forward, and then backward, and then under 10 minutes, etc. (I stop when I feel less anxious, but this can go on for bits at a time for days, depending on what’s causing the anxiety.)

When I’ve got Buffy down, I move on to Angel (110 episodes), and then Stargate SG-1­ (a whopping 214 episodes).

In some ways it’s a time waster, but when the anxiety is high, the repetition can help calm me down and the memorization lets me focus on something that isn’t whatever’s causing the anxiety.


2. Cleaning/Reorganizing/Book Touching

I usually have a smallish (read as: large) pile of paperwork sitting on the corner of my desk and a handful of other things sitting out of place around my space. Picking up those areas is a great way to deal with my anxiety because while I might not be able to get a grasp on other things, I know where these things go! (Some of it is the recycling, I admit.) Even if I don’t make it through the stack, diminishing it at all gives me a sense of purpose and success when anxiety is otherwise blocking my productivity.

Reorganizing my bookshelf is another way I deal with anxiety, but since my bookshelf is already organized, this is often a way of tricking myself into feeling productive. I might shift curios around or find a new bookend, but usually there’s very little to do. What I mostly end up doing is touching the spines of books, reading titles, taking in the colors, and occasionally picking the next book I want to read or identifying a book to give away (that last one is actually productive). Even if I’m not distracting myself by the task of reorganizing, losing myself in my book collection for a few minutes usually helps reduce my anxiety because I’m focused on something else.


3. Faceplanting in a Cat

When I’m stressed, I find my cat and I shove my face in his fur. Or sometimes, he finds me and forces me to cuddle (often by lying on me and shoving his fur in my face—at least we’re in agreement about what’s comforting). This also usually leads to him purring, and there’s little that soothes anxiety as efficiently as a cat purr.

 

Three weird methods, but they all work for me. The reason they work is that all of these activities take me away from whatever is causing the anxiety and allow me to focus on something else—and something I enjoy. Because even when I’m reciting the names of Buffy episodes, I’m thinking about a show that is funny and means a lot to me. So, yeah, even though it’s a little weird, I’m happy to do it if it means that afterward I can function. Do you have any weird coping mechanisms or things that you do before settling into work?