The Two Hardest Things - The Start & The End

I’m a perfectionist, with a very short attention span. This unfortunate combination coupled with easy excitement about new ideas/projects can cause a lot of trouble.

When doing any writing or painting I practically fear that first word or the first line. I might have a concept ready, but trying to avoid disappointing myself I tend to ponder a lot before I actually get down to it. With drawings there is often a ready image inside my head, which the perfectionist in me craves to output 1:1. Unfortunately lacking in drawing and painting skills everything after the first line, the very first dot put on paper takes me further and further away from that mental ideal of the image…

Does that stop me from doodling and sketching? No. But it does make starting on a piece really hard, as I have to convince myself over and over again, that it is OK to not be perfect. To tell myself that each of those unfortunate caricatures of the mental images actually does improve my overall skills making me that one step closer to the ideal drawing.

Similarly with writing. You have an idea, maybe you have even done some background work for your masterpiece. And yet still getting over that first sentence seems like mission impossible. What if it is not good enough, not enticing enough, not interesting enough. It’s your chance to capture the reader, and you might blow it.

This is where I need to remind myself that this will just be the first draft, that there is room and time for editing. It might be due to the fact that during school years I always wrote my essays straight away. No drafts, no rewrites. Time start, go, no second chances. I would only go over checking the spelling and punctuation before handing my work over to the teacher. In many ways this was not some writing heroism. It was a practical solution in the war against total rewrites. I knew myself enough, to be aware that were I to allow myself for more than one or two word corrections I would have never finished.

This leads me to the other part of this post. The finish line – dreaded even more by my inner perfectionist than the beginnings…

Once I start a project and get into it, working on it seems to just roll by itself. Excited by the work and new challenges it provides, I plough ahead like a madman. That is until it’s just about finished. Around the 80% mark it starts to look like plummeting into a black hole. The closer you get the slower you seem to be progressing towards your goal.

And what actually is this mirage of a finish line? For a long while I had to have projects literally taken away from me by force, as they would never be good enough, and there always was something to tweak or fix. It probably took me about 5 years of work in web development to accept the fact that there is no such thing as a bug free, 100% finished application. There will always be issues, there will always be enhancements and new features requested by the client.

Paradoxically this knowledge combined with the inner need to make things perfect, as well as my hate for testing (I really do suck at it…) means that the closer to the end of the project, I find myself less and less interested in it. This is usually when I get my Next-Great-Idea… At least at work I have deadlines that push my projects forward, but at home it is a whole different story. Suddenly even doing the washing, hovering or cleaning the windows seems more appealing…

So how do you stay motivated up to the last minute?