Compulsively Finishing

My masterpiece!The other day I was composing a song called Pants Are Death. I had a drum track I liked, a little chord progression that was fun to play, a lead melody line. A few solo licks in there for flavor. And it was fucking terrible. Somehow, all these ingredients, which on their own seemed so cool when I was composing, mixed together into something no one — not even me, its creator — would ever want to hear.

I finished it anyway. Because that is what I do: I finish things.

I don’t know about y’all, but about 95% of the creative endeavors I try fail. Most fail so spectacularly I seal them up inside lead-lined capsules and dump them at sea, where they will be safe from discovery until approximately the heat death of the universe. I suppose I could destroy them instead, but they’re still my creations and I can’t bear the thought of burning them or deleting them using some sort of military-grade hard-drive scrubber. If they’re under the dark waters, slowly encrusted with sea life, at least they still exist in some sort of Schrodinger’s way.

Still, despite this discouraging failure rate, I finish things. As long as they’ve reached some sort of critical mass in terms of length and energy invested, I finish these horrible, horrible songs and stories and novels. I have no illusions. The number of borked projects that can be fixed by pouring more and more words/notes into them is exactly: zero. Zero projects can be saved once you realize they suck. But I finish them anyway, because I must.

I can’t explain why. It’s just conservation: When I’ve already crafted 20,000 words for something and it’s just complete shit, I have a choice: I can have 20,000 words of unfinished, useless shit, or I can put another 10,000 words into it, type THE END, and have a really crappy novella to bury at sea and have feverish, tortured dreams about. I always, always choose the latter. Somehow the time and energy saved just walking away never seems nearly as important as making the time and energy already invested mean something.

I do cut corners. Once I realize that smell that’s making me gag is my own novel, the goal is to finish it. That’s it. This sometimes involves a Plane Crash Ending, wherein all your loose ends and unresolved character arcs die in some horrible accident, leaving you with one solid theme to wrap up in a few hundred words. Sometimes this involves the Aliens Make Cookies ending, wherein you just throw logic and consistency out the door and decide the preceding was some sort of Twilight Zone mindfuck even though there was zero indication of that. Sometimes you just Time Travel to the ending and mention 30,000 words worth of story in a sentence.

It doesn’t matter, because it’s going into the lead-lined capsule, dig?

I know this isn’t normal. Neither is refusing to wear pants, drinking a fifth of Wild Turkey, and waking up two weeks later with a fake ID and a bag full of live chickens in Mexico, but that’s how I roll.


  1. Elisabeth Black

    I do this too! I attribute it to my “bullheadedness” as my father used to call it. Although in everyday conversation I would say “stubbornness.”

  2. jsomers (Post author)

    Beth: I like to refer to it as my Problem. Because it applies to everything I do, from home repair projects to songs to whatever.

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