90% Ville Part 2: Three Reasons it’s Hard to Finish


Last week, I alluded to the difficulties of being 90% done with something. And what a long walk it is to get from 90% done to 100% done.

But I was heading out the door to Quebec City (Gorgeous! With lovely gracious people who don’t care if you don’t speak French!), so there was no time to delve into this rarely addressed problem in the fine art of finishing.

But now I’m back, :-) so let’s delve.


The Many Faces of….Finishing

Soooo, as you know, I write often about the difficulty in getting started.

And I write sometimes about the funky middle, and how resistance protects us from finishing something that might be bad.

But there’s another tricky spot, and that’s the almost end.

That long walk from 90% done to 100% done.

And basically, there are 3 main reasons why you don’t want to take that walk and really finish.

But all of them are solvable–because once you become conscious of what they are, they will no longer fool you.

Reason #1: Your Fickle Brain

The first reason you don’t finish things that are so close to being done is that you mentally move on.

You had an idea and you got yourself started.

You then sucked it up and got yourself over a huge hump–that funky middle part where your project looked nothing like how you first pictured it–and now you’re on the other side where it all starts to come together.

Your piece or project suddenly has a “right-ness” to it that means it’s almost finished.

And then your left brain says “Problem solved.” and it starts to move on.

This is especially true if you make things for a living or on a deadline. You can see your way clear to the end so it feels safe to start working on other pressing things that also have a deadline.

Except that’s dangerous, because everything that’s left to do takes a lot of time to get done.

Reason # 2: The Khyber Pass of Creativity

Everything involved in that last 10% of your journey is time-consuming because it’s usually strangely…..hard.

Even when you’re so close to being done.

This is because the design problems you’re facing now are much more subtle, ambiguous, and feel slightly out of reach.

You can see the end, but now you’ve got to feel your way through to it, inching along the narrow cliff edge in the twilight.

This is frustrating because not so long ago, when things were all coming together, you were striding along in open fields, your water bottle full, a slight breeze in your hair, the sun at your back.

But now, because so much is already done, right answers are not easy to come by.

You’re in your own personal uncharted territory.

So you just have to be patient and trust yourself in these dark, narrow spaces.

And give yourself some help. An emotional crutch if you will.

For me, that’s using a timer.

Because when you set the timer, you create an agreement with yourself about how long you must endure this grey area, this ambiguity, this unfamiliar land.

To help you through the last 10%– last hard of it.

Except maybe one very important bit of hard that people don’t talk about much.

Reason #3: Forgetting Why

I learned a lot about the creative process in myriad design jobs where I created on a deadline. I’d pull myself through that last 10% of a project all the time because I had no choice. It was my job.

But what about when it’s your art or craft work at home?

Something you feel/felt excited about, but there’s no urgency–no boss demanding something, no deadline to meet–or else. No one to notice if you finish or not.

What then? Why suffer through all that hard? Why snake along the Khyber Pass of Creativity just to finish….what–this idea you had?

I mean, if an art project falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, does it make a sound?

It Matters

Okay, perhaps you are “just” at home in your studio/craft room/patio/garage.

So…’s not life or death on the Khyber Pass. It’s not meet-the-deadline-or-get-fired.

And living in a culture that perceives things as legitimate when they make money, it can feel strange to spend a lot of time on something that probably won’t.

Especially if this involves some (temporary) suffering.

But that doesn’t mean it’s silly or unimportant either.

And when you’re in the hard and tearing your hair out over finishing a piece, maybe your spouse is saying–it’s okay, it doesn’t matter, who cares? It looks fine! Why do you do this when it makes you miserable?

They’re trying to help and don’t like to see you struggle.

And frankly, you might be saying that very same thing to yourself–who cares, why bother?

So you don’t work through the last bit of hard. You don’t finish.

Because well…….what’s the point?

The Point

The point is this: you finish your projects is because finishing honors your passion.

It reminds you that this thing you love to do matters. That it enriches your life to use your time in this particular way.

If you were a jock, maybe you’d work out a lot and run a marathon.

But you’re an artist.

And being in the world as the creative soul that you are is your real job in this world.

Your day job may be a blessing and provide for you and your family, and that’s great. Fantastic even.

But it’s not all of who you are. (And it might not be very much of who you are.)

So you work through the different hard parts of finishing because you’re supposed to live your life as an artist.

Experiencing life and the world through creativity. Thinking artistic thoughts. Immersing yourself in aesthetic quandaries. Expressing what’s inside you.

That my friend, is reason enough.

Your Turn

What do you think? Do you find it hard to finish? Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

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  1. Sharon Scott says:

    I love your outlook. The part that really touched my artistic soul, was the last paragraph. The Point.
    You finish your projects because finishing honors your passion.
    that in itself is enough.
    thank you.

  2. Sarah says:

    So glad to hear that Sharon! Thanks for reading!

  3. I need some brain surgery to fix that #1 problem. I did not know….

  4. Janet Hartje says:

    All of these reasons have been mine along this journey. Lately I have really been struggling with ‘the point’. Thank you for this timely article. It was needed.

  5. yona says:

    sarah, you must be psychic or something… i just took down a show (which was my first since my brain injury in dec 2007). but over the weekend i took a workshop with michael demeng and started another really personal piece… it’s at the 90% mark and i have to make a few more important decisions… of course with the end of the show and selling only two originals (and a lot of positive feedback) there’s this bad attitude why bother voice screaming at me…. i am glad i made the time to read cause i think it is just what i needed…thanks for taking the time to write it and lead me through this darkness… i have officially recommitted to finishing it and you are so right… it is about honoring the passion… yona

  6. Rhiannon says:

    My problem is making the second beaded earring. I finish the first earring no problem, but then I am ready to move on to the next project LOL I have to really get after myself sometimes. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. KnittingGuru says:

    You mean there’s something wrong with having mountains of almost finished things around???? I always have many things that need to be edged, or blocked, or whatever done to them. Those projects are great for days when you’re creative juices need a pick me up (I seem to have some mixed metaphores here!)

    I learned to knit and crochet when I was a little child and I remember my mother hollering at me to finish the first thing before I went on to something else. I really don’t think that’s how the creative process works. Creativeity is Messy! Sometimes it’s good to have just that 10% to work on late at night when you’re tired, so you can spend your really creative time dreaming up[ new designs and getting a start on them.

    Rhiannon – I understand about earrings. I don’t really like to make pairs of anything unless they’re really quickies. The second sock for example is a killer!!!

  8. Sarah says:

    Oh, I’m not saying you must finish something before starting something else, I’m just saying it’s important to finish. And it sounds like that’s what you are doing–working on them late at night, etc.!

  9. [...] I appreciate how hard I’m working on getting from 90% to 100% on some big projects I’ve got [...]

  10. One thing I have seen in people I have worked with or taught or were close friends with was that last 10% had a tremendous amount to do with self esteem.
    When a piece is not finished, the artist is protected when anyone who feels the need to voice an unasked for opinion pops off something cold or cruel. At that point, it is easy to say, “Well, it’s not DONE yet, so it will be this or this or this….”
    I have had friends with stacks of unfinished (and lovely) work, and it will never see daylight due to criticism in the work process—OR—when they have completed a piece they were excited about and loved, really got slammed.
    Sometimes it is more than just working through to the end, or getting sidetracked (me!) or any assortment of reasons—-it is a deeper issue of hurt, and the unfinished is protection.
    Which is a sad statement of what creatives have to face and how we all have to shut out the other people talking and listen to our hearts.


  11. Sharon Scott says:

    I have to admit that most of my creations are at that 90% point. But I do have a legitimate excuse, just in case I need one. It is because I am a part time Longarm Quilter with enough work to go full time, but not enough finances to quit a paying part time job. And not enough energy to work work thru the nite or my whole weekend. I work 3 days at bookkeeping and 3 days at my studio. So my PHD’s, (projects half done), that are in waiting are my brainstorms that were cut out and put on hold and are stacked neatly waiting for me to finish them up. But my 90% done ones are on a shelf waiting for me to quilt them in between my clients, (which doesn’t happen that often!), but it does happen if I have a quilt show or deadline gift. But when the tops are done, I count them as done. :)

  12. Gosh, most of mine are at that 90% point as well. And I agree with Anne Huskey-Lockard, a great friend of many years, that if anyone says anything, even something that is actually a good critique, it is like the kiss of Death! I am beginning to feel very terrible about all of this. I have projects I want to do in my mind or on my work table, but I am afraid to start anything else because I have not finished what is on my plate already. I just can’t seem to think of a way to get them done. I too work about 25 hours a week as a Paraeducator for special needs children. When I come home at the end of the day, sometimes I fall asleep in my chair as I am drained emotionally and physically. When I do try to get started on one project, by the time I get it out and start working, it is time to go to bed, or I feel the need to go. I am getting exercise and eating right, etc. This is SOOOOOO frustrating! Peace and many blessings, Annie

  13. Sue Ann says:

    Oh thank you for this! My four 90% completed paintings and I needed this.

    @Rhiannon ~ maybe you should design pendants? <3 :-)

  14. Sarah says:

    @Annie–yes, I know how easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed. When i feel like that, it’s because I’m expecting myself to somehow get everything done all at the same time–but no one can do that!! I don’t know if you’ve ever tried using a timer (my “20 minute technique”), but it’s a great way to set concrete parameters for difficult phases in your work and allow yourself to have at least small visits with your artwork that can be surprisingly fruitful–and even rejuvenating–(along with less overwhelm) esp. when you work a lot and feel fatigued at the end of the day. It’s seems strangely simple, but it does help. (Love your traditional textiles on your blog as well btw…) hugs, Sarah

  15. [...] so not a lot of artmaking got done this week for me, but important finishing steps were taken in several projects–most of which involved framing a few favorite collages from [...]

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