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Neil Gaiman, in this moving speech, says that one of the things an artist must do to be successful, is finish things. Sounds easy, but it’s not.

As you all know, I am writing a memoir. It is more than half done, and I am very excited about it. I also wrote a novel last year and the beginning of this year, and it is sitting in a drawer awaiting a rewrite. Juggling two projects along with all the other things I have going on isn’t easy, but I’ve been doing a decent job.

But then, I got another great idea. This idea involves setting up a new site, writing a lot of content, and spending a lot of time and attention putting it together, marketing etc. It’s a really good idea and I am truly excited about it. I registered three domain names the other day and started brainstorming content, until it finally hit me: I HAVE TWO UNFINISHED PROJECTS! Adding a third will definitely eat into the time it will take to finish these.

I reluctantly decided to shelve the new project until I’ve finished the first two (or at least one of them!), because I realized that the third project is just a way to procrastinate on finishing the memoir and the novel.

I do this all the time. I start something, all excited about it, and then, as it drags on, I become interested in something else. I changed my dissertation subject several times, and found myself doing extra research as new fancy things caught my attention. (To be honest, the memoir itself was a new thing that distracted from the novel, but I know I can finish them both, working more or less concurrently on them, as one is in the writing stage and one is in editing/rewriting.)

It’s hard to finish long projects. They often require sustained attention and perseverance, both of which I often lack. I am beginning to realize that I have a fear of finishing. If I never finish, after all, I never have to put the work out into the world and suffer the uncertainty and humiliation of possible failure and ridicule. Starting a new project is not just a symptom of losing interest in one thing or in the never-ending search for something new. It is also the manifestation of a tendency to leave things unfinished.

This time I recognized it before going fully into the distraction of a new project. This time I am able to reassert my determination to finish the memoir, finish the novel, and then embark on the new project. In the meantime, I will set up the sites and do some passive research, seeing which one generates more interest, and then start the thing in a few months, when I’m done with the other things.

If you are working on a project, do you feel the nagging temptation to jump onto another project? Do you finish 75% of something and lose interest? Do you fail to edit or rewrite or revise or whatever needs to be done to have a completed work? If so, let’s take Gaiman’s advice, and just finish whatever we are working on. If you have any tips, let me know in the comments.