I’ve been working with creative and performing artists as, first, a therapist, and then for the last thirty-five years as a creativity coach. I’ve learned from my clients just how hard they find completing their creative work. Many creatives have trouble getting started; many have trouble working regularly; but almost all have special problems near the end, when the finish line is in sight. In this series, I want to spell out twelve reasons why completing creative work is so darn hard.
I’m framing this series from the point of view of a painter’s challenges, but the points apply to someone working in any creative field, from writing novels to game designing, from filmmaking to app development. I’m sure you’ll be able to easily translate the points I’m making to the medium in which you work. If you’d like additional resources, let me recommend three of my recent books: Redesign Your Mind, The Power of Daily Practice, and The Great Book of Journaling. Together they can provide you with a clear picture of how to get your creative work done through right thinking, good daily habits, and the self-awareness that journaling provides.
Here is challenge number 8.
Difficulty knowing if and when your work of art is complete.
A minimalist, Zen-influenced painting might be done after just a few strokes. A narrative painting might have a cast of dozens of characters and require countless strokes. Is the former less complete than the latter because it is minimalist and so much of the canvas remains white and bare? No, of course not. Each must be considered complete according to its own criteria for completion, its own aesthetics and its own lights. But how confusing this can become! We look at our work-in-progress and simply can’t tell if it is “done already” or “needs more work.”
Many artists have the deep, visceral feeling that their work is done early on in the process and their continued work on it actually weakens the effect. How odd! Because “completion” is necessarily a subjective assessment and not an objective assessment, and because we may experience multiple, contradictory feelings of the above sort, we must ultimately “simply” make a decision, one that is more like a guess and a surrendering than a calculation or a foregone conclusion. If we do not regularly surrender in this way and announce that a given work is done, then it isn’t and never will be. It will always remain unfinished. An artist’s central task is to engage in this special poignant surrendering—as uncertain as he may still feel as he makes his decision.
More to come!