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|
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.