Celebrating Unfinished Projects
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
We've all been there. The project we're working on gets tough, we lose faith in it, or it simply becomes less shiny, so we start a new one in hopes that it'll work out better.
Meanwhile, that unfinished project sits in the back of our mind, the back of our drawer, in the depths of out intricate folder network that definitely makes sense. It collects dust, and it collects guilt. We vent our shame the only way we know how, silly memes on the internet.
Okay, maybe it's not that deep. But it can lead to some mean impostor's syndrome! Especially when our peers seem so productive.
Using my many unfinished knitting projects as a visual aid, let's find reason to celebrate our unfinished projects.
Unfinished Project Type One – It was never right anyway
Sometimes a project is just destined not to work. It doesn't mean it was a worthless venture. Only that the finished product isn't a tangible object. Here is my lovely moss stitch jumper.
It was meant to be a moss stitch jumper at least. The same way your epic space adventure looks a bit like this pile of yarn vomit.
But what I learnt from this is that using aran yarn for moss stich looks bulky and boxy on me. When I get the time/yarn budget, I will try again using a light weight yarn and smaller needles. But right now, it is not worth investing time into a project that just won't work.
When you have gotten some space from writing project where the pieces just aren't fitting together and the story isn't working, you will likely be able to see what you learnt about your writing style from that attempt. Maybe 1st person didn't work for the narrative you were trying to build. Maybe you didn't have enough foundational research to start writing a story set in a time/place/experience you're not familiar with. In any case, there is something to learn and you've used time efficiently by stepping away from it. Way to go!
Unfinished Project Type Two – It was too difficult
Meet my lace socks. I bought the yarn on holiday in the Peak District because it reminded me of a hike we did. I chose the pattern because it had the same vibe. Talk about emotionally attached!
But it turns out that lace work is super difficult! Especially when your first attempt at it in on some socks with a dark colourful yarn.
Sometimes we start a writing (or knitting) project that is beyond our abilities and it hurts to step back from it, especially if it a holy grail project or has personal significance. It makes it sting all the more when we can't make it work. Setting it aside doesn't mean you've failed. It means you want to grow your talent to the point where you can do the project justice. And I will finish those socks!
Some practical advice: if you've hit a roadblock like this in your writing but don't want to step away just yet, consider getting somebody on board. If you're at the stage of fragments on several word docs and post-its then maybe a writing group to workshop it is the best next step. If you've got the rough sketches of a first draft, a beta reader can show you how they experience your work. Or if it is a solid first draft (or you've been going in circles losing count of drafts), get in touch to see how a manuscript report could support you!
Unfinished Project Type Three – I fell out of love with it
This is the yarn that made me want to knit (boucle mohair, I know, I'm awful). I have a hat in it and desperately wanted a jumper. Three years later, a five-hour trip to the Lake District (under the guise of it being a nice holiday) was all I needed to get the yarn.
It now sits like this on my bedside table, staring at me. I am determined to love it again, but right now I don't.
Common advice for when you've fallen out of love with a project is to push through. Stepping away from it feels wrong, like betraying that advice. But really, you might be preserving any chance of loving it again. While our writing/knitting is precious to us, when it comes down to it is a story/pile of yarn. We don't owe it our happiness. It is better to step back and work on something that brings us joy than to slog through something we aren't passionate about anymore. Space from it might even spark a new idea for a direction to take the project that will reignite our enjoyment. We might switch the narrative perspective, or introduce a new theme, or make it short sleeved instead of long. But we can't grow our minds to have these ideas when we're still frowning at the words on the page (or stitches on the needle).
The guilt we feel about abandoning projects that aren't right for us just yet can detract from the enjoyment of the projects that we're devoted to and ready for right now. Let's celebrate what we are doing, not feel bad about what we're not.