Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Know When Your Creative Work is Finished

How do you know when it’s done? The book, the speech, the painting — the work?

How to Know When Your Creative Work is Finished

Last week, I had a speaking gig in New York City that ended earlier than expected, leaving me with six extra hours to kill. Earlier this year, I had a chance to see Hong Kong during a short layover and didn’t take it. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake.

During my afternoon sprint through NYC, I:

  • Walked through Central Park while finishing an audiobook
  • Drank an amazing cup of coffee
  • Ate the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie
  • Drove across town to grab a couple slices of Brooklyn’s best pizza
  • Listened to Christmas jazz music the whole time

It turns out you can do a lot with a little time if you really want.

Leverage the wisdom of friends

Before my city adventure, I polled some friends on Facebook about what I should do, and they offered all kinds of advice. But how did I know which ones to pursue? Which activities were the right ones?

I didn’t. All I knew was I had six hours. So the right choices were the ones made before the deadline. They became the right decisions because I made them. And I don’t regret a single one, because those six hours in New York of doing something were way better than six hours in an airport doing nothing.

In our work, rarely is there one right way to do something. The work is done if it actually gets made.

Art is never finished

In the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy, there are four statues called “The Unfinished Slaves” which were sculpted Michelangelo.

The edges of the statues are very rough, not polished as you’d expect a finished work to be. In some places, you can even see the raw marble jutting from the more sculpted part of the statue. This is so uncharacteristic of the perfectionistic Michelangelo that these statues have become almost infamous in the art world. Just compare these statues to the nearly-perfect David to see the contrast. Something is up here.

Here’s the back story.

Originally, the statues were commissioned by Pope Julius for his tomb, but he died before they were finished and the funding of the project ended. Eventually, the artist did “finish” the statues, leaving four of them looking quite rough and ambiguous in form.

There are lots of theories on why they remain that way, but most art historians and critics agree there is something profound about these unfinished statues and what the have to say about art, a message that Michelangelo very well may have intended.

The statues pull away at the earth, which threatens to hold them down. These slaves are trying to liberate themselves from the material world but are still bound by it. And this, perhaps, is the job of every artist.

Leonardo da Vinci once said that “art is never finished, only abandoned,” and I believe this is true. So the trick here is to not abandon your work, but to ship it, to release it in the world whether you feel ready or not.

Your work is done because you made it

That’s how you know. It’s finished because the deadline is here and you didn’t squander your chance to make something. You didn’t sit in the airport, waiting. You did something, and that’s what art is about.

Whether it’s polished or not, the goal is to make something. If you do that, you’re done. It won’t feel finished and won’t ever be good enough for you, but this is the burden we bear. We make books and paintings and even build businesses that aren’t perfect; but they’re better than perfect — they’re real.

Need help knowing when it’s time to ship your writing? check out Don’t Hit Publish.

When was the last time you chose to do something instead of nothing? What project are you working on that needs to ship? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • I’ve heard from published authors they always want to go back and tweak afterwards but at some point you just have to let it “ship.” Thanks for sharing!

  • Janice Ayers

    It’s true, a painting is never finished to perfection. But most viewers don’t notice what seems to be a glaring problem to our own minds. Thanks for reminding us we’re all facing the same difficulties 🙂

  • Elia

    Nice stuff Jeff! Keep sharing the awesome articles. Thank you so much for this.
    http://www.getintoapc.com

  • Kelsey Michele Assel

    Thanks for sharing this. This was something I ran into when creating my platform, GoalGetter. I wrote my first draft of a post, and waited 9 months before I ever launched the website. During that time, I was building up a backlog of posts,and making sure the platform looked polished and ready for launch, but there definitely a lot of apprehension and worry about whether or not my content was ready for the world. When I finally scheduled my inaugural blog post, I was so afraid to press the final “publish” button that I considered scrapping the whole thing- along with 9 months of hard work! But at that time I knew I’d come to far to stop. So far, my blog/vlog channel has been up and running for about a month, and I’ve seen a lot of great response!
    http://www.beagoalgetter.net

  • nice, thank you jeff with this article
    cheers clubimers.com

  • Manda

    I don’t have to be completely satisfied with a piece of writing before I call it finished? This is life-changing! I have so many things I’ve made that I don’t know how to improve, but am still not satisfied with. I guess they’re…done! I could do a handspring! Thank you so much!