You know that project hanging over your head? The one that’s been sitting half-finished for months, gathering dust, just waiting for you to bring it to completion? I have several. They make my skin itch when I walk past them, covering me with the debris of guilt every time I remember them.
And once a project has been sitting there for a certain length of time (I haven’t figured out what that mysterious length is yet…a week? A month?), I subconsciously accept its incomplete state as a permanent reality. It enters the “unfinished project” zone, and its chances in ever escaping alive have dwindled to near nothing. At some point in time, I consciously accept the defeat, putting said project away in the closet (read: mausoleum).
Doomed to the Grave
It all begins with procrastination, of course. Innocent infatuation with the other projects in my life. A lack of enough time to do everything. But soon I can’t use that excuse anymore. I know that by setting the work aside for too long, I’ve doomed it to rot forever.
I may surprise you when I say that this post is not about the ills of procrastination or leaving projects unfinished. (Although a worthy topic and one I’m always working on.) Instead, I want to break all the rules by telling you to grab that recently deserted project and preemptively throw it into the crypt…er, I mean closet.
I know what you’re thinking. “Abandon the project? Quit? Accept failure?” And my responses are, “Yes,” “Not exactly” and “Never.” My reason for telling you to let your W.I.P. “R.I.P.” will make sense after you hear about my serendipitous discovery of how to trick my subconscious mind. (Muhahaha….)
Hibernation is Healthy
I really enjoy painting, but it’s been months…maybe even a year since I’ve picked up a brush (Side note: I’m not counting the Super Mario piñata I created for my son’s birthday). But I was feeling the urge to paimt this week, so I decided to pull one of my unfinished projects from the closet and tackle it anew. The idea of seeing my paints and brushes again thrilled me. Even my abandoned partial works sent tingles of hope through my veins as I remembered with fondness the original inspiration for each. So I picked a canvas, squirted some acrylic on my palette and dove back in.
And somehow an hour and a half later, I had a complete project I absolutely loved. I’m certain I never would have ended up with this painting had I kept trying to finish it a year ago.
The moral of the story? Your project may not need to be permanently buried, but it may need to hibernate. Give it (and yourself) a break.
Pond Scum and Processed Cheese
Like the icky green skim that appears over a stagnant body of water (or the congealed rubbery skin over a bowl of partially cooled Velveeta cheese dip), a motionless project takes on a similar stigma from disuse. But if you are able to trick your mind into forgetting about it, that very same smelly halfling of a work might very well be transformed into a project whose appeal rivals that of a wrapped Christmas present. So hide it in the closet, banish it from the to-do list and cut the shackles that mentally tie you to that ball-and-chain.
Sometimes it’s difficult to solve a problem simply because of the length of time you’ve been staring at it. I think the same can apply even when you haven’t been directly working on a project—even if it’s just been sitting there, hanging over your head.
Of course you have to know when to hold on and when to let go. I’m not saying to give in to resistance or just let any project fall to the wayside. And I’m definitely not giving artists an excuse to hibernate from their craft. But hopefully the reminder that it’s okay (even healthy) to put the project on hold for a while will release a burden from some overloaded shoulders. You know the project. And you know what to do.