Overcoming Project Completion Resistance Syndrome

Big news!

I finished the first draft of Vaetra Unveiled.

My writing really slowed down in the past two weeks. Life events played a role, but partly it was what I’m calling “Project Completion Resistance Syndrome” or “PCRS.”

I don’t think I’m the only person who suffers from PCRS. Check out the symptoms and see if they sound familiar…

PCRS occurs late in a project, usually somewhere in the last quartile. You realize things are coming to a close, and you start to second-guess virtually everything you do. You are concerned that you forgot something. You are afraid of what will happen when you actually “deliver” the project. As a consequence of these concerns, you find excuses to make “one more tweak” or “go back over everything.” You find yourself easily distracted by other “pressing matters,” and the project languishes, often a mere step away from completion.

The cure for PCRS is simple in concept, but difficult in implementation. You need to accept the concept of “good enough for now.”

Perfectionists have a very difficult time with this one. That’s why they have tough time completing projects.

When I say “good enough,” I’m talking more about quantity than quality. Your work should always reflect your best effort. However, there’s a saying that “work expands to fill the time available,” and PCRS will lead you to continuously expand the scope of the project, thereby preventing you from completing it. Deadlines help considerably with combating PCRS, but only if they are externally enforced and realistically achievable.

PCRS transcends disciplines. I’ve seen it in software development projects as well as writing projects.

In software development, I solve this problem with the concept of a Minimum Feature-Set Release. The business can’t start benefiting from the project until it goes into production. For the first release, we set aside all of the bells and whistles. The goal is to release something that includes everything necessary to make the project worth doing, but nothing more. Once the project is actively contributing to the financial welfare of the business, we prioritize the additional features and roll them out in subsequent releases. Often, the software effectively pays for its own upgrades. But it can’t do that if you let the scope of work expand endlessly and never get that first release on line.

Fiction writing projects suffer more acutely from PCRS because you realistically get only one shot at the final product. You can’t incrementally release a fiction book like you can a software program or even a non-fiction book (which can have “editions”).

The one thing fiction authors have going for them is the revision process. Every writer seems to write a little differently, but most write their book in drafts. With each revision pass, the book gets a little better, until the writer is unable to see anything more to improve.

From personal experience, I know that the first draft of a book is the first place PCRS comes into play. I also suspect, although I haven’t experienced it myself yet, that the final draft of the book is the next place PCRS is likely to strike. Perfectionist tendencies would make it extremely difficult to step back from the book and say “behold, it is done and cannot be further improved.”

I know that PCRS is a serious problem for many fiction writers because I frequently read about authors who labor for years on their stories, and are never at a place where they feel comfortable releasing them into the world. Some authors have literally have dozens of stories that are in various stages of completion, or more to the point, “incompletion.”

At the same time, you have other authors who can set a goal to get a short story from concept to availability within 24 hours. Yes, I actually know of one author who did this. He wrote the 6,000-word short story, edited it, designed a cover, and uploaded the resulting book to Amazon, all within 24 hours. This man has absolutely no problem with PCRS that I can tell.

Since I can’t use the concept of a minimum feature set in my fiction writing, I’m having to rely on deadlines and the psychological safety net of the revision process to keep my project on track. So far, it’s working. I’ll know for sure if I’ve really beat PCRS when I’m staring at the completed final revision of my book.

But for today, I’m happy to celebrate the fact that the first draft is DONE!


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