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Unfinished Business

For a number of years, every time my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit her parents, as we turned into their street, we passed an unfinished house. The concrete slab had been poured and the walls erected years before. But the structure had no roof and no interior walls. The stereotypical South Florida vegetation had nearly swallowed the structure.

Just last weekend, during our visit to North Carolina to see three of our four daughters, we passed a similar sight. The footers of a home had been poured and the blocks of the foundation had been laid. The sill plates had even been attached. And then construction had halted, and vegetation was beginning to encroach over the unfinished structure.

I don’t know the reasons for the unfinished jobs. Maybe the people ran out of money. Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe they even died without heirs to finish the work. Who knows which of myriad reasons fit these instances. All we know is that people started jobs that they did not finish.

As I contemplated these scenes, I felt a little guilty because I have myself started so many projects that I didn’t complete. Some of them I never should have started in the first place. Others, however, I should have seen through to completion. I think, especially, of writing projects that I began with gung-ho enthusiasm only to see them falter and then end up stuck, uncompleted and unsubmitted, in a box somewhere.

Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used to repeatedly tell the students attending his college, “Finish the job!” I need to apply that mantra to my writing (among other things). How about you? I’m sure that I’m not the only writer who has experienced this problem of unfinished work.

Why do we not finish our projects? For some of us, it’s procrastination. We get sidetracked by other things and end up losing our enthusiasm for the project that we started with such gusto. For others of us, it’s perfectionism. We keep tinkering and tampering with our words, our organization, or some other aspect of our writing, and never getting around to finishing and submitting it. And sometimes it’s our petrifying and paralyzing fear of rejection that stops us in our tracks. We are so afraid of having our work criticized and rejected that we let it sit and rot rather than submit it and let the chips fall where they may.

The cure for procrastination is determination. Just make up our minds to do it! And then follow through with action! For our perfectionist tendencies, we must admit that nothing that anyone (especially not us) writes will be perfect. Even at our dead-level best, we will still have flaws in our writing. When I worked as a textbook author, I was amazed at how the authors, editors, proofreaders, and others involved in the publishing process could go over text, photos, and illustrations with a fine-toothed comb time after time after time–and still the end product contained flaws. At first, I was appalled and embarrassed by such mistakes that slipped through. But then I realized that perfection was impossible and decided that the best thing was just to do my best and let things work themselves out. The sun would come out again tomorrow. The world would not end.


Easier said than done, I know. But the alternative is even worse. We will never finish any job as long as we fear what others think of it. As I sometimes look back over the hundreds of written products that I’ve created since I began writing for publication in 1981, I find myself cringing at the errors I made and thinking of how I should have written them. But then I realize that had I not tried, had I not done my best and submitted my work such as it was, I would never have had anything published. I’d still be a wannabe rather than a published author. And that’s when I’m glad that I stifled my inner critic and ignored the naysayers and critics (or as Spiro Agnew called them, the nabobs of negativity). And when confronted by their criticism, I thought, Well, at least I got something published. What do they have to show for all their criticism? What have they produced that is worthwhile?

So if you, like I, feel badly about your unfinished projects, don’t just wallow in self-pity; do something about it. Finish the job! Select just one of those unfinished tasks and tackle it, determined to get it done. Do your dead-level best, but get it done. And let the chips fall where they may. You’ll certainly achieve a whole lot more than if you do nothing. And later you’ll be able to look back and be glad you saw it through to completion.

Now please excuse me. I have some unfinished business to attend!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Books by this author, all available in paperback and Kindle versions at http://www.amazon.com:

Confederate Cabinet Departments and SecretariesLook Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East TennesseeTeacher: Teaching and Being Taught (essays in Christian education)

#writing #procrastination #criticism #fearofrejection #publishing #productivity #perfectionism

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©2020 by Dennis L. Peterson