Sunday Sanctuary: on Finishing and Not

If my creative life had gone as planned, dear one, I would be sharing with you the pinnacle point of my year: the publication of my new book. I’ve been working on this book since the spring of 2016, leaning into a new way of writing for me waxing upon the ways to tend the soul and nourish a creative spirit.

I began working on the book through an Instagram project, sharing 100 days of creative living. The challenge to see – and marvel – over the details in my life that added to the richness. Remembering to be grateful for those seemingly ordinary seconds that on a whole bring me to my knees of how grace is always within my reach. Honoring the holy in the simple moments.

Forcing myself to be a seeker – an explorer – an experimenter – rather than always being The Person with The Answers.

Most of my professional and creative life hinges on that, by the way: knowing the answers. As a life coach, I share what I’ve learned once I’m on the other side of it. As the Editor in Chief here, I am the guide and mentor. Stepping into the role of being the student, the novice, the one taking a risk instead of bearing witness to those taking risks is an uncomfortable position for me.

Yet, it’s also the position I must be brave enough to explore. If I’m going to be true to my creative self, I have to stand here before you and confess: despite all my experience, I don’t have it all figured out.

I believe that finishing things, completing tasks, and reaching goals are all part of our spiritual journey.

I’m all about exploring the depths of our creativity in ways that feel fun and nourishing. I know that we should play with our craft in different ways, because without play and experimentation our creative life becomes stale or feels rote. To the depths of my soul, though, I also know that we must make part of that journey into creation with the intent to reach a finish line. Yes, the journey informs us, but we each need to regularly complete a project and share it with the world in some way.

And my dear friend, I have failed in this quest.

Sometimes, the mantra we must take up in order to allow ourselves to complete a project is “finished is better than perfect.” The coach and editor in me knows that there is no such thing as perfection and that need to make things perfect before putting them out in the world is a way in which our inner critic keeps us small and fearful. Perfection and the pursuit of it is how we self-sabotage.

There must also be discernment, though – the ability to set aside our ego and evaluate our own work from a place of love, yes, but one of truth as well.

The book I should be telling you about was a week away from departing my hands to arriving in the hands of my editor. I dutifully exported my file from Scrivener into Word so that I could give one more pass at the work before sending it along. I had it printed (Fed Ex Office is worth the wear and tear on my little ink jet printer).

94,560 words. 414 pages. Almost twice the length of a NaNoWriMo novel.

But before I completed hand-editing the first 100 pages, I began to get a sinking, sick feeling. What I held in my hand was crap.

Now, I am not the kind of person that whines about how ugly/fat/horrible I am so that others will soothe me by slathering compliments upon me. Sure, I need my ego stroked a little now and then, but I don’t belittle myself or my work to get compliments.

While I understand that there are times we writers and artists say our work is crap because we don’t feel confidence in what we’ve produced, there are other times when that description is more than apt.

My friend, I know myself and my capabilities well enough to discern when what I have written just isn’t my best. This? This book I had been working on for almost two years?

It was not my best. It was not my best at all.

And so, I wavered.

To say that this has been a challenging year for me is an understatement. I have done this grief dance before, and thought I was just wired to manage grief differently. But the loss of my daddy? It sent me to the valley of grief in ways I hadn’t imagined, finding myself unable regularly feed myself, let alone write anything of substance.

I needed the ego stroke of publishing a book this year.

It seems that everywhere I looked around me, my friends were finishing books, getting the interest of agents and publishers, and putting their work into the hands of others. I needed – am in need of – a big win. A reminder that loss doesn’t define who I am. That I still have it within me to create and nourish myself and others with words.

I want the check in the box. To finish another book. To open up my creative life for a new project that isn’t tainted with fresh loss.

I left a very rambling ten-minute message to Melissa on Voxer. Telling her that this book was crap. While Melissa wasn’t going to be editing this book (like she does the majority of my blog posts), she’s been reading my work for more than a decade.

She reminded me what I knew at heart: I am a good judge of when something of mine just isn’t great.

I spoke with John at length. We were heading to DC for the week and I decided to sleep on my final decision a couple of days. I had a week before the manuscript was due to Andi for her expertise of editing.

After settling into our hotel, we headed into the city to my beloved Penn Quarter, the neighborhood that has served me and held me for many years. Over tacos, guacamole, and margaritas consumed at a sidewalk table at my favorite restaurant in DC, I told John I’d made my decision, a hard pill to swallow: I wasn’t going to be publishing a new book this year.

I felt both relief and a deep ache in my soul about this. To be this deep into something and still not see it to the end was a failure, wasn’t it?

So, I did what we all need to do when we make a hard decision: I said it out loud. I told John and Melissa. I wrote a letter to Becca. I asked for thoughts from my friend Jenn McRobbie over lunch. She’s an author and had worked for a coach-focused publishing house and told me “this is why I love you.” I told my friend Jen Lee over Voxer. I had a conversation with Andi.

At every turn, I discovered that while finishing is a spiritual act, choosing to walk away from a project is also an act of nourishing ourselves. Sometimes, done is better than perfect. And sometimes, my dear, choosing to halt – or at least put a project in cold storage – is the best way of finishing something for a while.

It is possible that will pull this book out of cold storage after the year turns in a few weeks. It is equally possible that I will not, but either way, the words I wrote will not be wasted. Just as fallen autumn leaves eventually become nourishment for the earth, the work I did on the book I’m not publishing this year will feed a new project, a better finished product, and help me clear a different finish line.

As well, the experience has reminded me that perfection isn’t real, and that sometimes we gain as much from our successes as we do from our failures.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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