Most artists leave unfinished work behind, and not just due to death. Sketches that never materialized into something important enough to paint, rough drafts that never coalesced into a comprehensible story, notes that never formed a memorable melody. Even this blog has promised posts on everything ranging from favorite authors to essays coinciding with the 10-year anniversary of my journey to Japan (and which now I think would’ve been simpler had I merely transcribed my diary entries, rather than trying to create something new out of them. Heck, I could’ve combined them with my emails home as an interesting compare/contrast, or used one to delve deeper into the other. So many options!). Though, in the case of my blog, many of those planned posts never even made it to the rough draft stage.
The thing about unfinished work is that, so long as I’m alive, the hope remains that they’ll become something finished. For example, on my Murmurs from the Balcony blog, I’m still working on Sakura-Con posts from two years ago. I may not finish all the ones I promised, but I still hope to post what I have, timeliness be damned. In this case, the posts are unfinished because I lacked time to put in the effort needed to write and release them in a timely manner. I also blame slow Internet, which I’ve since rectified.
One other reason for unfinished work is lack of practice. The first poems and short stories I wrote are awful because they are my first attempts. Even the good first attempts aren’t better than my later work, but since every story and poem and novel are their own unique creation, earlier work is not necessarily worse than later work, provided that I’ve practiced enough to where the form frees me, rather than confines me. And since I keep changing as a person, so does my writing style, which makes writings from different stages of my life not so much like comparing apples and oranges as comparing pineapples and guacamole.
A third reason for unfinished work is because it’s not worth finishing. When art ends in a dead end, you must abandon the effort. Other times it drains too much of your life force for you to be able to continue without harm to yourself. Sometimes these unfinished works are released as-is, or with someone else completing the idea. Better to feed it to the fire, or to researchers interested in the creative process: these efforts will only tarnish the reputation of the artist in the public’s eye, and is often used as a money grab. Does that mean the artist is always right about the quality of their work? No, which is why someone with taste in art should appraise unreleased work before letting it roam free among the populace. But in general, unfinished work — as opposed to finished work which is withheld — is meant to perish in anonymity.
And finally, some work isn’t finished because it requires an older, wiser, more skilled person to create it. Recognizing that quality is something that separates a true artist from a layman, the latter of whom will not recognize that art, and not the artist, dictates its creation. Many of da Vinci’s works were subject to this holding back. Even the Mona Lisa was technically “unfinished” at his death — not because the painting wasn’t done, but because it could never be done so long as da Vinci was living and learning new ways to paint.
In conclusion, don’t be afraid of incomplete work. Speaking to writers (and I speak from experience), don’t feel that everything you write needs to be published. Hang on to your unfinished work, for it may spark a better work in the future, but realize that, just as life ends with goals left unrealized and things left undone and knowledge left unknown, so art, too, is often left unfinished at the time of its completion.