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One story at a time: the importance of sticking at a project

On Quora, I saw a user ask, how will they ever cope, having a million story ideas to write, and not enough time in life to write them all. And although I didn’t answer it at the time, I kept thinking about this question, as it is something that bothers me as well. By the time I logged back on, the question had disappeared down the feed.

The advice I would have given is this: only work on one thing at a time, and in the words of my friend Sharon, keep on going until you get to the end.

That might not seem like a big deal, but it is tried and true wisdom. The feeling of having finished something is very important to your creative confidence, even if you do not end up doing anything with it: a finished story or song can sit on a hard-drive for many years without seeing the light of day; but it is still ready to polish, rework and send off, the moment an opportunity arises

At the other end of this is having a multitude of parallel projects, all of them unfinished, which is completely soul destroying; and trust me, there is nothing more depressing than realizing that nobody will be able to make sense of your boxes of notes, if for some reason you were to disappear, and someone has to sort through them.

Multitasking is something I heard endlessly about in the workplaces of my 20s and 30s; but now, I think that it is a load of garbage. If you spread yourself thinly over too many things, you lose focus and energy on the things that are important to you. On the surface, it might seem like you have achieved a lot, but really, all you have done is set yourself up for failure, with half-a-dozen unfinished projects and the unrealistic pressure to finish them.

I would say now, finish one thing at a time, no matter how many great ideas you have. Those other ideas will not disappear. You will not lose them, which is the fear driving obsessive note-taking. Your best ideas will keep coming back to you, no matter how much time passes, as they are integral to who you are as a person.

By surrendering that fear of losing ideas, you are able to dedicate all of your mental energy to the one project, which in itself is full of lots of component parts that need attention.

And if you are not sure which project to work on, choose the one that you have the best chance of finishing.

Sometimes, you take a project as far as it can naturally go — and for whatever reason, you get stuck; whether something in you life becomes more demanding, or you have reached a natural creative stop, then it’s okay to shelve it for a while.

But never abandon a project just because you think something more exciting has come along; you will spend your creative life endlessly jumping from one thing to another, wasting your time and energy in an ultimately unfulfilling way.

Now, I say to myself, if I only finish one thing a year, then that is pretty good. There are about ten major stories I would like to finish over the course of my life. And when I feel frustrated that I’m not doing enough, then I might answer a few questions on Quora, or write a blog post like this one 🙂

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