March 01, 2017

Breathing New Life into Unfinished Projects by Sandi Somers


Brenda Leyland, in an article called, “The Hindrance of Unfinished Projects” said, “A half-done project is much like starting a race and then dropping out before you get to the finish line. What Olympian would even consider such a thing?”  (In FellowScript, November 2012, p. 4)
                                                  

Uncluttering Our Minds



What happens to our minds when we have half-completed projects?
           

I know. I’ve done it.


 I’ve had to put writing projects on hold while working on others. But my mind is sometimes still back with the first projects: mulling over ideas, jotting notes as I listened to sermons, writing thoughts in my journal—even grabbing scraps of paper to record a fleeting thought. (I once pasted these scraps of paper in my journal, giving them the title: “Unfinished Symphonies”.) It’s as if my mind knows there’s more I could say.


Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik
I experienced what is known as the Zeigarnik Effect: we remember unfinished tasks more than completed ones because we need to keep them in mind until we experience closure. If we hang on to too many unfinished projects, our minds become cluttered. Anxiety builds. We can become so paralyzed that we don’t accomplish much at all. 


So how do we tackle those projects and untangle our minds? What are immediate and long-term strategies to get to the finish line? Although we don't have complete answers, our writers this month will give us a wide selection of experiences and strategies to help us.


From There to Here: The Way Forward



Begin with prayer. I began preparing for this month’s topic by reading Richard Foster’s  book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. He said we need vigorous prayer for “a vision to create new solutions to old problems…We must pray for God to make a way where there is no way (in order to) “dream new dreams and see new visions.”




Recognize how our personalities and habits affect our patterns of finishing (or not). Some people have greater organizational and efficiency skills than others. They work boldly toward their goal, while ones like me need time to think issues through before making decisions.  But sometimes we don’t finish because of uncertainty, fear, or just simply procrastination. Recognizing where we are is a first important step.


Work towards mastery of our craft. Musicians, artists and writers say it takes seven to ten years, or 10,000 hours, to develop optimum skills and efficiency.  It takes patience and perseverance to develop good writing skills. I found that diagnosing and listing those areas where I need more mastery provided good insight and motivation. Then courses, coaching, contests, constructive critiquing, and submitting what I’ve completed, all help me to finish a project.


Revise. Revise. Revise. “All good writing is rewriting,” is wise advice. Our first drafts are just that—drafts. But the real work comes with revising. When I pore over the same words and thoughts, I sometimes don’t feel as though I’m accomplishing much. But in revising, I’m shaping my thoughts, developing insights, and adding depth and meaning to my work.  At the same time I’m learning how to bring my works to a satisfying conclusion.


Set realistic goals. This too is part of the learning process. Several years ago I planned to write far too many articles in a week or month. But I gradually learned how much I could accomplish and planned more reasonable steps for a day, a week or a month.


Develop the discipline of focus. Focusing means letting go of distractions while trying to write. Social media. TV. The laundry (it can wait). I particularly get distracted with the “Shiny Object Syndrome”,--we all do, where we can’t resist writing some new exciting idea before finishing the old project, especially when we hit a snag or get mired in the middle. Harnessing those shiny objects is a key: writing about them first thing as “warm-ups”, writing them in our journals, incorporating them in our current projects, or even letting them go.


Choose the next project wisely. I’ve found Madeleine L’Engle’s process very helpful. She envisioned books she would someday write as soups in different pots simmering on the back of her stove. Whenever an idea came up, she added these thoughts to the appropriate “soup”—like adding an onion or carrot to the real thing. Then when she was ready to begin a new book, she’d bring forward the “soup pot” that was most complete  and begin writing.  God will help us choose each project in its proper order.


Take the challenge to change.  Change may not come easy. But James Clear says that small but consistent changes increase our chances of success (read his article here). Goethe advised, “Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it and finish it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” The writer of Proverbs said, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3 NIV). When we take courage and trust God to begin where we are, God energizes us.
                       

Accept God’s promise. Know that God always leads us! “For I am about to do something new,” He said. “See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland (Isaiah 43:18-19 NLT).
What is that new thing for you?
What does God want you to forget and not dwell on?
How does God want you to begin where you are?

 “Dear Lord, I…invite you into these unfinished areas of my life…Shine your Light and show me how I got here in the first place, and how I can remove the hindrances. I long to accomplish the plans and purposes you have set before me. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” (Brenda Leyland)


God is the God of breakthroughs.



PS  Read these practical ideas on decluttering your writing. Also read Jeff Goins’ article here. Well worth reading! 

14 comments:

  1. There is so much to think about here, Sandi! I will have to come back and reread it - maybe even make notes! (Not to clutter my mind, however!) Once again you start us off so eloquently. thank you ten times over for your faithfulness and commitment to getting us on track each month! I am looking forward to what others have to say on this topic.

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    1. Thanks for your affirmation, Tracy. For me there was so much information to think about that it was hard to condense into one blog. I too am looking forward to others' insights this mongh.

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  2. I agree with Tracy. So much here! I will come back too. Thank you for the links, I found them helpful too.

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    1. I'm glad to know the links were helpful for you, Joylene. There is so much to absorb when we think of unfinished projects. God bles you as you work on your own blog this month. I look forward to reading your insights and what God is saying to you.

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  3. This is so very timely for me. Thanks, Sandi, for helping me organize my thoughts and work. I'm going to print this one out!

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  4. I'm so happy to know how helpful this blog is for you. God bless you as you organize your thoughts and work!!

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  5. Like Marnie, I will have to print this one out, as there is so much to consider here and so much that would be applicable for me in trying to get a bigger project finished. May God bless you for your wonderful offerings for us, Sandi.

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    1. Glad my blog is a great help to you, Sharon!

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  6. You've made some excellent points, Sandi. I covered several of them in my Mastering Good Writing Habits workshop at InScribe's 2016 Fall Conference. Among them are at least 10 Ps that are worthwhile for all writers to contemplate: procrastination, perfectionism, patience, perseverance, persistence, planning, purpose, practical, priorities, and practice.

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    1. Thanks for your Ps to contemplate, Nina. I didn't attend your workshop at Fall Conference, so I'll be looking forward to your blog thi month.

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  7. Such great advice, Sandi, and so much wisdom. I will be coming back and re-reading this post because it's so full of good stuff. Thanks

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    1. So glad to know my blog was helpful for you, Connie. You will be gleaning lots of good thoughts/tips from other writers, too.

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  8. I appreciate the reminder to take our To Do Lists to the Lord for his wisdom and direction in prioritizing. I need to do that today...

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    1. God will bless you as you ask the Lord for wisdom and direction, Dayna. Thanks for your comment.

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