A work cycle is idea to completion.
Completion means you close out the project: quit working on it, or on this version of it. And you release it, either by shipping it or trashing it.
(Trashing is a kind of shipping, if you think about it.)
Completion does not mean finished or perfect; it means closed and released.
You don’t reach completion; you decide on it. You set a marker, a standard of some sort. The standard itself is arbitrary. The key is that it’s reachable and clearly defined. Define a point of completion by some standard: hours put in, word count, deadline reached, features finished.
The other key is that you honor the point of completion: once you reach it, you stop. You close it out. You release, whether or not you think it’s ready.
(We hardly ever feel like our work is ready.)
You decide the project is complete. You decide the product is done enough to be released. You don’t wait until you feel it. You don’t wait until it is fully finished. It will never be fully finished.
When working on a larger project, set smaller internal endpoints so you can reach completion.
Internal endpoints show you where to focus your energy from day to day. You get to know that you’re on track. You get the high of finishing something even when the work is ongoing.
Completion releases you to turn your energy to other things. A short work cycle with a defined endpoint frees you from those endless perfectionistic loops.
And the messy part?
Well, creativity is always messy in one way or another.
Maybe it’s paint splatters on the floor.
Maybe it’s a story so personal and vulnerable you feel exposed when you share it. Maybe it’s an idea that’s still rough around the edges.
Maybe it’s the shift you feel in your own understanding as you work on something: Ah, I thought this was it… but this is not quite it.
Maybe it’s the disconnect between the plan you trusted and the reality you encountered.
Instead of trying to clean up all those rough edges, polish all those surfaces, finish, perfect, smooth, hide, clean and organize and categorize and cover, how about this: release it.
Embrace the inherent messiness of creativity. It’s supposed to rip you open a little bit. It’s scary because it’s risky. It’s risky because it’s real.
I’m not saying you should skip editing or throw any piece of crap into the world (although there’s something to be said for creating crap). I’m saying don’t force your work to fit in a safe little box. Don’t waste your time on that.
Let it be a little weird and a little raw. Ship it out there. Give it to us, as is. We want it. Trust me: we want the real, raw, vulnerable, messy, edgy, boring, weird, detailed, ripped-open oddity that you want to give us. We really do.
So, you release it; and now you go forth to the next thing. The next idea.
And you keep doing this.
You feel a little terrified every time. But it’s okay.
You lessen the fear of failing, the fear of releasing, the fear of judgment, the fear of imperfection. You embrace all of these fears: you release things that are flops, that are undone, that are rough around the edges, that are weird, that don’t fit, that are obviously imperfect.
You keep the ideas fresh. You keep an open flow of energy and learning, an open conduit for creativity.
Each cycle teaches you how to be a better creator. Each cycle teaches you that you are a creator. Each cycle is rough and messy and short and energizing and you create a momentum that feeds your creativity. Keep it going. We need your work.