When is it Finished?

We as creatives love to let our minds run wild, let our minds explore what already is and imagine what it could be. Imagine how it could be better. We try our hardest to see what the outcome of some idea is going to be. We try so hard to defy reality and see the future. We try to widdle away all the ideas we shouldn’t focus on, get to the one idea we should chase down with reckless abandon, we make a few iterations to give us a next-level-glimpse at what is to come, and then we go for it. This is where the true fun of creative work begins.

At this point we have focus, we have a goal, we have an end in mind and it’s breathe-takingly going to blow the minds of all who find the privelege of being in it’s presence and proximity. Or is it? We press on, reassuring ourselves “if I add this, or that, or these that it will really be getting close to finished.”

Or is it?

How do we know when something is done? How do we know that we know that we know it will have the impact we hoped, foresaw, and dreamed that it would. We told our leadership it would accomplish bullet points 1—7 of our goals, but will it? How can we find any form of confidence in our sea of unknowns, educated gueses, hopes, dreams, and in whether we want to admit it or not, attempts at greatness? Can we ever really know?

In short, we’ve all had that project we thought was amazing that was actually a flop, yet we’ve also had a project we thought was going to be a sure flop turn out amazing. But what made them different? What set them apart from one another? What made the success a true success and what made the flop a definitive and disaterous flop?

I feel like these are questions I am constantly toiling with. How do I know if this really is the right direction? How do I know if this is going to be enough effort? Ultimately, when is a project done? When does it have enough? When is minimalism honestly just not enough, but when is something just too much?

Knowing when something is done is tough. People will say sweeping quotes like:

A project is not done when there is nothing more to add, but nothing more you can take away.

While that sounds awesome, that doesn’t tell me when my color palate is finished, it doesn’t tell me if my texture matches the genre, time period, or style. It doesn’t tell me when it’s going to meet the expectations of my leadership even though I may like it as it is. It may be a really rousing quote when set in white Trajan text on a black background on the wall of your art appreciation class, but for me it’s not a real world answer. So really, when do yo know it’s finished?

Sadly for you (and me) there isn’t a formulaic answer to this question. It will be different to every project. Finished is a term our society is eager to achieve by exerting the most minimal amount of effort possible, no matter what the stakes. We grow up our whole lives learning how to haphaserdly save a buck or minute here and there only to spend that money and time on something we don’t need while spending that precious time so wisely on Twitter and Facebook. Is this our goal in life? Cut corners on what matters to have time and money for things that don’t matter?

To really know when something is truly finished, you have to know you’ve given it the right amount of time to really explore what else is possisble, so that you can know you should rule it out. You learn to trust your gut, or someone’s gut. Maybe it’s just always knowing there could be more, but this will have to do for now because it’s the very best I can give with the constraints I have.

For me, I think one of the best indicators I can have is to look back at a project and know that I gave my all to the time, resources, people, and knowledge that I had at that time. Yet I always hope that years later I can look back at anything I’ve done and known how I could have done it better. That distaste for my own work shows me that I’m always learning to be discontent with where I am, knowing it could be better.

This is (whether we like it or not) the creative process.