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Stop Expanding Your Creative Graveyard

I see you out there, the moonlight outlining your figure while you dig. While you throw dirt on canvas and still-wet paint six feet underground. I see you giving up on another painting, another story, another blog post, another project. Maybe because someone pointed out the messiness of the lines, or because you can’t figure out that plot hole on page three, or because it just isn’t good enough. Well stop it. Stop expanding your cemetery of abandoned, half-finished works, and finish. Because once you do—you might be surprised at just how well your project turns out.



The Life and Death of a Project

I’ve done my fair share of grave-digging. Heck, I have a mass grave of never-finished stories and digital art files on my hard drive. By now, I’m pretty much a pro at tossing my unfinished works underground and making sure they never see the light of day again. But why do I do it? Why do any of us give up on our projects?

I think to fully understand, we have to start at the beginning. First, there’s an idea. In a recent example from my life, that idea was a short story in the form of a web comic for an online competition. I got really excited about the combination of drawing and writing and plotted out all three episodes in an hour or two. I drew up my character designs, and I dove in.


Blocking out panels, adding dialogue and thought bubbles and writing witty banter that probably only I find amusing—I made it all the way through the first episode before I lost steam.


I looked back over my 42 full-color panels… and I hated it. The line art looked sloppy and less-than-professional. One character’s face had 8 different facial structures throughout the episode, the other character had 12—it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t everything I wanted it to be.

I wanted to get my shovel, make the hike out to my creative graveyard and ditch the thing. Instead I posted it to the competition site and watched as (very few) comments and likes trickled in. The very first comment was critical and rude, and not in a constructive way.

I really, really wanted to bury the web comic.


It all comes down to discouragement. Internal, like my own dissatisfaction for the way my comic was turning out, and external, like that nasty commenter. It’s really hard to keep going when you feel like all the time and effort you put into your project won’t amount to something you’re proud of in the end.


Put the Shovel Down

I didn’t bury the web comic. I’m still working on it, and I won’t stop until I’m finished. I’ve said about projects that I later abandoned before, but this time it rings true. To be completely honest, I’m not sure what magic ingredient is allowing me to plow forward instead of digging another grave and moving on to something else. Maybe it’s the contest deadline. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve already posted the first episode and failing to post the next two would be a more public kind of failure.


Maybe this time it’s finally clicked that finished is better than perfect. That even if every person on this planet hates my web comic (myself included) I will still have gotten something out of it. Experimentation in a new medium. Sharpened drawing and writing skills. Experience with the vulnerability of putting my work in the hands of others. Last, but certainly not least, satisfaction in knowing that I finished.


Set It Aside, Don't Give Up on It

Sometimes setting a project aside, is beneficial. This is especially true with writing, because it provides editing distance. You’ll be able to look at your work with fresh eyes and see mistakes and awkward wording that you couldn’t before.


If you’re just getting frustrated with a project, maybe it’s better to set it aside for a day and try again when you’re in a better headspace.


But giving up on your project permanently? That’s never productive. If nothing else, you will always get more practice by following through.


Abandoners Anonymous

I think all artists have abandonment issues, and no, I don’t mean we’ve all got tragic backstories fit for a Disney movie or a Young Adult novel. I mean we give up on the ideas that once kept our fingers to the keyboard and our pencils to the page, certain that we’re not talented enough to finish the job.


Let’s finish the job anyway. Let’s embrace the mistakes, and the messy lines, and the plot holes. Because if we do, if we can finally get past the idea that everything we make has to be perfect, we’ll make a lot more and have a lot more fun doing it.

At least, that’s what I’ll aim for.


This blog was first written for Targa Media Inc. and is published at targamedia.com

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