It’s always the same story for me: I start a project, a class, an idea, or a story. I eagerly rush in, align my pencils, lay out my notebooks, and make delirious plans in my calendar. That first day, ideas and dreams pour out of me.
Then four days pass. I waver, tired. My calendar seems oppressive. The new habit loses its stickiness against the watery pulse of time and circumstance.
I lose another day, a week, and slip behind.
Last Spring, I started Hannah Marcotti’s beautiful Spirits of Joy and did ten days of paper crafting, collage making, glue bending. The drawing ignited in me a new set of doodles; the ripped paper and tacky glue nudged the sleepy muse inside of me.
And I ran from the class to my journals, getting lost inside of my own writing project. The crafts lay quietly on my desk for the next three weeks.
I used to beat myself up for not finishing things. Like the fits that “Crazy Eyes” has in Orange is the New Black, I’d cringe and mentally beat myself up each time I found another project laying around the house, paused or half-done.
It was a pattern so familiar, I started to observe it.
What was happening? Why was I quitting?
Things got hard, they got rough: deadlines built up. Real work pulled me in. The need to take a run and take care of my body surfaced. The competing pulls of attention and focus and deadlines wrapped me in their compelling arms.
But something else was happening, too. Ten days of paper-crafting with a beautiful spirit course led me to building an entirely new online program of my own.
Skimming the lessons in a business-building mastermind opened up a new way of creating sales pages. Reading half of a book propelled me into my next project.
And then it hit me: what if I was getting exactly what I needed?
What if I was getting exactly what I needed? These courses and events served as inspiration for my soul, and my soul nudged me when it was time to begin working.
Like a creative coach blowing the whistle, she stood on the sidelines while I soaked in knowledge until they stepped in and said, “Okay, Sarah, go make that thing. You heard the whisper. Now make.”
What if my ego was the only part of me that really cared about finishing?
You don’t have to do everything to get something out of it.
Twelve half-finished books is still reading six full books. (Many books are inflated lengths anyways and should be shorter). Some things are meant to be finished. And some things don’t need to be finished.
You don’t have to finish your meal. (In fact, not finishing might be better for you). Or your art project. Or the class you signed up for after you get exactly what you need out of it.
We think we know what we need in advance.
The more I plan in advance and then later watch my life take shape completely differently than my plans, the more I realize that planning ahead can be a flimsy wish at best.
It gets our foot in the door. We often underestimate how much time things take, or assume we know all the steps we’ll take before we get started.
You can pause. You can wait. You can enjoy the space.
You can quit.
You are allowed to leave things half-finished and undone. You can walk away.
Writers who join my programs always fall down. This is life, it happens: we get sick, we get tired, we have late nights. Instead of beating yourself up, I remind them to build in “life” days.
Want to blog? Make a plan to do it weekly, with a free pass to skip one week a month for when life gets a bit frenetic. Try experimenting with a few prompts and pick out what works for you. Leave the rest.
No one said you have to get 100% done and be perfect to enjoy the fruits of your progress. In fact, if you write two essays, that’s more than zero.
Somewhere in the quest for perfect, we forget to acknowledge that something is better than nothing.
An apple is better than no apple. A walk is better than sitting. Sometimes, some days, I say to myself, just walk around the block. Just write a little story. Just make a couple of lists.
And here’s the secret grace: when you let go, you make space to return.
When I feel the pull again, I get that half-finished notebook of Hannah’s off my shelf. I collect magazines and glue, snippets and scraps, words and graphite. I work into the late evening, wine by my side, lost in messy piles.
My book, a 30-day project, might take me 180 days. I may never finish. What I need is not a 30-day check mark of completion, but the grace to return to crafting whenever my soul calls for it.
And what if, instead of a routine, you let yourself come back in?
I always hear new writers tell me stories about giving up after failing to stick to a routine (the same is true for people beginning a new exercise routine).
But what if, instead of betting yourself against a routine, failing, and then quitting — instead you took a breath on the off days and let yourself come back in?
Like writing morning pages to warm up for writing, the little movements are what bring us back into our greater works. The biggest dreams are sometimes the hardest to start.
It’s hard to feel progress in the tiniest of moments, but it’s not about the goal. We can’t fathom the experience in its entirety. The peak is a representation of the work, a moment.
By letting go of the deadline, the need for perfection, my ego’s need to complete everything I’ve started, I allow myself the space to come back in.1
Because it’s always about making.
Come back in.