Last week I pulled out a bunch of fabric to start a new quilt. It’s not that I don’t have enough current projects to work on, (there are at least eight). It’s that I like starting projects. There’s so much potential at the beginning of a project, whether it’s a new quilt or a new story. In my mind, it will turn out amazingly well. I can picture the beauty of the quilt, feel the flow of the words.
The fabric I pulled sat on my ironing board for about five days, right in front of a quilt that is stuck to my mini-design wall and has been either on the wall or shoved in a basket on the shelf for, well, about five years now. Obviously, that project has not had my undivided attention. It did at first, when I started and tackled it merely for the challenge. This project entailed drawing a picture (I don’t draw), enlarging it at the print shop, tracing it all onto butcher paper, labeling each little piece, ironing it to the back of the fabric, and stitching it all back together again. It was a long tedious process, one of those that you get halfway through, start drinking and then think “what the hell was I thinking?!?” We’ve all had them.
The first part looked like this:
This took FOREVER, so I bagged that plan, and went with this:
Last summer, I got it out again and added some thread to try to add some shadows and fingernails to the hands. It helped, but they still don’t look like I want them to look. So I shoved it back in the basket. It came out a few weeks ago. Now, it’s on my wall, sitting right next to where I write. Or, more accurately, where I haven’t been writing, but where I’ve been sitting, staring at the screen or the paper, trying to finish the last stretch of my novel.
I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks thinking about “finishing.” I have two projects that are two of the most difficult I’ve ever done: my hand quilt and my novel, and I’m struggling to finish them. I’m learning that I have a hard time finishing hard projects. I start to doubt myself, decide it’s going to stink anyway, and start on something new and easier. I realized that’s what I’d done this past week when I pulled fabric for a new and easy quilt, one that I know will turn out, and also one that I know won’t challenge me at all.
I have never thought of myself as someone who avoids a challenge; I take them on all the time. My hand quilt, my novel, even this blog are all challenges I’ve taken on. However, somewhere along the way, I must have decided that it’s the finished project that is the most important element. Intellectually, I know that is a fallacy. The finished project is not the most important thing. Really. I learn something every time I work on the damn hand quilt as I do every time I sit down to write. It’s all about the journey . . . right?
Emotionally, I’ve decided my problem with finishing a difficult project is that it just might suck. My hand quilt might look like lobsters trying to sew and my novel might serve better as kindling for the wood stove, but if I don’t finish, they’ll always have the potential to be perfect! I’d love to say I’m mature enough to finish a hard project, accept the lessons of the journey, and move on, but I’m finding that the reality is, I’m not. I’d clearly rather keep working on these projects indefinitely rather than face the fact that they might not live up to my expectations. I might let myself and everyone else down. That’s scary, and in a nutshell, I don’t like it.
However, to try to overcome this new little core belief I have discovered about myself, I’ve decided that I’m not starting any new projects until the hard ones are done. I put all the fabric I pulled for the new easy quilt away. I’ll try to make the lobster claws on my quilt magically transform into hands, and I’ll also create a fabulous resolution for my novel . . . hopefully. In any case, they’ll be done, perfect or not, and I can start fresh.