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It’s not a failure: Making peace with not finishing

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Hello, happy Sunday, and happy New Year’s Eve! I hope your traditions and rituals for these days are calm and peaceful. Although, if you have a polar bear plunge tradition, I would love to know!

There are so many threads to gather as the year draws to its close. Bundling up all the ends, as best you can, gives some sense of intentionality to the transition into the new year. Holding the year that was as a complete ball of time in your hand, looking back at the shifting images that stand out, roll across the surface, emerge through the mist… the moment of pause, of reflection, of “ah…. these were the things,” helps give a sense of closure. I don’t always make this happen though. Sometimes, I really do feel like I roll into the new year dragging all the loose ends behind and hoping I can still tuck everything in. Ultimately, I know the year marker is an artificial one. The tapestry in progress is the same. The change in date just helps give us footholds, boundaries, ways to count and catalog, mile markers on the map. Are we almost there yet?

There have been moments of strangeness this week, things jumping out at me or making me wonder “why, in this moment?” There will be time for these threads next week when we start Sidewalk Oracles. Already, I feel like I’m opening, inviting something in this coming year, poised to more simply accept and embody things that feel central to the way I move through the world but that, maybe, I often hold just a bit of to the side. What changes if I let down my guard? In so many ways, that has become a question I’ve been polishing.

I’ve been thinking about my Word of the Year. As has often been the case, the word that seems to not want to let go is one that makes me uncomfortable. It may be what I need. I might retreat to a synonym on the list that has also been swirling. I am always surprised how the words emerge when I’m not looking or when I first glance that way. Every year’s word doesn’t end up powerful and rooted, but every time I sit and hold a possible word for the year ahead, it is with the hope that the word might guide a year in ways that will nurture, support, inspire, and surprise me. (I don’t reveal my word directly until the end of the year, if ever. I may use it and hint at it and circle around it again and again, but I tend to hold the claiming of it private for the year. I’m superstitious that way.)

I’ve been making some ad-hoc lists:

  • Books (to read)
  • Projects (and tasks) I already do weekly
  • Projects I do at some point in the year
  • Projects I might want to add, especially weekly ones
  • What I did in 2023
  • 24 for 24 (a life list; maybe a refinement of my “year” list, which never really solidified this year)

I know I can’t keep adding. The list of “tasks” I feel obligated to continue is extensive. Some of these are things I’ve been doing for years. There are so many things I want to “also” do, but I don’t know how to let go of things people have come to expect from me. I don’t know how to let go, even when things no longer serve me well. I am talking with myself, in the periphery, about this, about why I am hesitant or even afraid to let go, about the fact that I can only keep piling on so many new things and doing them well, or well enough, before something cracks. How can things be so full and so empty at the same time? What is most fulfilling right now?  What will see me through? What happens if I close doors, simplify?

We are low-key, even boring, in our year transitions, but we have a longstanding tradition of “finishing” something on New Year’s Eve, which sets the stage for “starting” something on New Year’s Day. (We take “whatever you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll do all year long” pretty seriously). I may just end up tucking in the ends of something I finished this week. That feels like a bit of a fudge, but I’m okay with it. Since my illustrated journal is my primary creative project, putting the final touches on Week 52 will be a point of closure that also checks the box for finishing something.

The rules we make about what counts in our creative lives are our own. Make your own rules. When it comes to your creative life, you don’t have to follow other people’s rules. 

Today, a bit about “finishing” and a reminder that it’s okay to not finish. In my many years doing the podcast and talking about creative life, this is something that has become a pillar for me, right alongside guiding premises like “it’s okay to love what you do.” So many of us drag the “you have to finish the book” perspective onto our creative lives. We get caught up in a mindset that values finishing over fulfillment. Today, a reminder that it’s okay to not finish.

A new year of Illustrate Your Week starts today. I’m behind in posting some of the “get started” info I planned, but really, it’s as simple as starting and recording something each day with both words and illustrations milling together on the page. Using a “weekly” format lets you build something contained and yet flexible over a series of days. This reduces the pressure to “finish” something daily. Pick and choose and record details from the week throughout the week. You’ll find more info in the Week 1 prompts. You can start at any time, but if you have that strand within you that particularly likes full cycles, a Week 1 start is a nice point of entry.

I hope you have a peaceful end of the year and transition into the new year. Thank you for being a part of my New Year’s Eve.

Amy

Illustrate Your Week is a free project. Most posts on the Illustrated Life substack are free to read. If you enjoy the year-long prompt series or find it a helpful part of your creative life, paid subscription options are available. Tip jar donations are always appreciated.

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