On Unfinished Projects…

Always finish what you start. I have tried in recent years to live by this mantra- at least when it comes to dessert. But when it comes to writing, either in a professional or personal capacity, is finishing everything you start always the right thing to do?

Take for instance the case of my last, non-paying client (see this post for my emotional homage to this human pustule). Had I known, at any time during the completion of the work I did for this alliterate ingrate, that I would have been irritated, berated and denied payment, would I have finished any of the commissioned work? Probably not. I probably would have then, as I have thought of doing since, poured bleach onto his exposed lawn in the formation of the word ‘bastard’. But one cannot dwell on things like anger, resentment or the 10 litres of unopened JIK in the boot of one’s car. Sometimes, you just have to wash your hands, burn the evidence and walk away.

Which brings me, albeit via a rather bitter tangent, to the question that squeezes guilt out of every spare moment spent playing Call of Duty, or willing my tomato plants to grow with the power of my mind. When is it okay to pull the plug? When is it okay to walk away from a project, not because there’s a creepy, thieving dirt-bag on the other end, but simply because it doesn’t inspire you anymore? Because, like so many attempts at cooking brinjals properly in the past, what started out as a good idea has now come to disgust and haunt you with its grotesque inadequacy and also, possibly, violent diarrhoea.

I’m speaking of my personal projects here, actually just one in particular, a pudgy novella whose flowery muffin top is now spreading over the 7 000 word mark with no sign of getting prettier with scale. It’s the most I’ve written for one story in a while- at least since last year’s abysmal attempt at NaNoWriMo, which left me with a 12 000 word monstrosity, which had to ultimately be humanely put down like a mangy dog. I have now reached what athletes and construction workers refer to as ‘a wall’. I feel that I can go no further along this same path for fear of smashing my own face in with frustration. I’ve reached that dangerous state of a project where I’m starting to honestly believe that scrapping the whole thing and starting again from scratch would save time and effort and result in a far better piece of work. It will also mean that this half-baked Franken-project will never be reach completion and bask in the warm apathy of my friends and family.

It’s very possibly a case of ‘the grass is always greener’, where after a period of time, any project that is not the project you are currently trying to finish looks far better in comparison. But with life being as short as it is, is it better to persevere on a project that you’ve come to hate, or to run towards that green, green grass? My art director has a saying, which helps us overly precious advertising Prima Donnas to build a bridge and get over conceptual rejection, ‘the only thing standing between you and the big idea is your current idea’. This makes sense in the fast paced world of marketing, where every day is spent chasing manic deadlines and the next gin and tonic. You can’t afford to ponder and pontificate, in fact you can barely even afford to pay attention. Brainstorms are like Joburg’s summer monsoons- fast, fierce and unforgiving- cutting down anything superfluous and leaving behind only the elements strong enough to survive. Then again, that’s advertising. Unlike a labour of love, a professional project has deadlines and bottom lines to ensure its completion. Should either of these be omitted, any brief would lose much of its urgency, and appeal.

Perhaps that’s the ticket then- to treat yourself as a supplier and assign a time and budget to even the most intimate work- and to treat both as seriously as if you weren’t just having a minor schizophrenic episode. ‘Tis better to have finished and sucked, than never to have finished at all’, or something… So it goes that what started as an uninspired, unstructured blog post has come full circle and given me both the inclination and the means to get back on the word horse and ride it all the way into the fictional horizon, where we’ll both explode in a divine super nova of mixed metaphors. Let no more time be wasted in procrastination, I have a novella to write!

I’ll come back and finish this post later.