Messy, tacky and awkward is pretty much how we could sum up our creative process. Yet how many of us are brave enough to acknowledge this fact? What if we held aloft a magic sword and screamed to the midday sun:
“Screw perfection! I’m out. You’re unobtainable. Take a hike, you tantalisingly unrealistic bastard. My creative process is love enough. The doing is OK!”
The pursuit of perfection drives us to some pretty dark places. It’s clouded our relationship with the creative process and driven us to abandon projects, lifestyles and event the art that keeps us whole.
It takes us away from the jobs we would prefer. It moves us away from finding love and true friendship through the things we adore.
Forgiveness is thin on the ground in a world when perfection leans on us. It makes some people difficult to deal with on a professional level.
So tied up with being the best or fitting the perfection ideal, we can bully, malign and hurt others. And as we bulldoze on, we refuse to see just how many people have been poisoned at the well of our character. They may not share their feelings directly. But you can be assumed they’re unafraid of comparing notes with other survivors of the perfection wrecking ball.
The pursuit of perfection makes us gloss over events in our lives, to edit our own stories. it has no time for the creative process and it’s inexact and sloppy ways.
But most of all, the pursuit of perfection costs us the ability to play.
We shy away from experiment and risk. The sweat of trying is belittled to nothingness. Progress is not made because the idea sits in a gilded cage inside the mind. Protected from criticism yet destined to fail through a lack of freedom. It stops us from doing the thing we want to do. All because the stench of failure becomes a headier scent than the sweetness of success.
So why can’t we cosy up to the messy and imperfect? And how can we learn this vital skill? Is it merely a case of getting over our inner cringe and getting on with it?
Here’s (hopefully) how you can screw perfection and find the courage to love your own creative process
Focus on self invention over self promotion
“Don’t think of your website as a self promotion machine. Think of it as a self invention machine.” Austin Kleon, Show your Work
The internet has created a world where we can market or products, services and creative ideas like never before. We’re only a plug-in away from strong calls to actions, lead generation tactics and a whole host of wonderful, money making things.
But this flexibility has seen the marketing has take over. It’s grown like a weed in the concrete and started to disrupt the foundations below. Its making cracked the surface changed the look and feel.
Indeed, the desire to promote ourselves is becoming the all-encompassing hobby.
Small business owners turned maverick marketers. Smart as a whip freelancers natter on about their personal brand. Names in the modem lights, flashing on and on and on.
Yet beneath the glitz and the glamour, the hard-nailed “got to be in it to win it” patter, what are we actually achieving?
What if you wanted to create something to be proud of as opposed to people pleasing?
This is where self invention comes in.
Self invention creates more creativity. It gives the opportunity to test your own assumptions without fear. Self invention means you’re focussing on the contribution you want to make. Rather than focussing on the rewards and accolades, the work you create belongs to your desire to discover and invent.
You connect the creative process that makes the work you can market. Instead of leapfrogging to the marketing and the pay-off, you sit in the studio and your toil.
It means understanding the mark you want to make better than colouring in the lines in order to be cool.
Once you realise the work you make and the ideas you nurture are your little trail of stardust in a rather large cosmos, it matters a lot less what the other kids think.
Training your brain to fitness
For the 10 seconds you see Usain Bolt on a track is a lot of early mornings and re-running of drills. For every song you love from your favourite songwriter is probably another 9 screwed up in a ball in the waste paper basket.
For every Seth Godin page you like, there’s probably another 7 that simply don’t resonate. Not every Google or Apple product is heralded as a breakthrough. Not all David Lynch projects see the light of day.
Nobody gets it 100% right all the time. Nor should they.
The creative process is replete and complete with failure. Failure makes us inventive. It makes us emotional and vulnerable, which is often the place where some of our better ideas come from.
We have to sift through the crap to find the jewel. That doesn’t mean putting out everything we create as a finished product. Because it won’t be. But it does mean collecting those dumb, half eaten ideas for a better time.
Clearing out the bad ideas, putting pen to paper, charting out what we need to do is about creating piles of garbage. It is the by-product of the creative process. But when you create those ideas and chart them out, when you find they are as weak as the last glass of cordial, it makes space for something else.
You have to clear out the bad ideas to make room for the good. Just like you need to clear out the bad jobs, the distracting people and the unfair notions of perfection.
The guy who picks up the guitar who can nail Spanish guitar through osmosis is rare. Each time you see someone who is being amazing, realise you are looking at the tip of an iceberg of effort.
There’s a lot of rubbish somewhere that helped create the next great thing.
Stop taking responsibility for everyone else
“What if nobody likes it?”
“But my family relies on me”
“This isn’t what people expect from me”
“I have an obligation to my customers”
This is not your creative process. This is your ego talking.
It’s a big fat excuse to stop yourself from doing what you need. And it is a hell of an assumption on your part that you’re so desperately important, everyone’s world stops turning because you do something.
If nobody likes it, you try again. Or you ignore the social media responses and the critic’s reviews. After all, as cartoonist Natalie Dee said:
“There’s no space under a painting in a gallery where someone writes an opinion.”
I take it one step further. Most of the paintings we revere were from artists who didn’t see recognition in their lifetime. That didn’t stop them creating.
X-ray machines find paintings underneath now famous works. These pieces are the art the artist decided to cover over. We wonder how amazing it would have been to have both paintings hanging. We refer to them as “lost artworks”.
What if they were simply the artist’s version of what they thought was crap? How different would it have changed their work if they didn’t try a better version of their idea? Have we honestly lost anything by not celebrating someone else’s crappy try?
When you decide that you’re responsible for other people, you allow them to hold you back. You not only allow them to hold you back, you’ve setup your pigeon to blame if you don’t get where you want to be.
But the people who love us, fan, family or friend, want the best version of us. Usually because the best version of us is happiest. The pressure can cause us to take ourselves way too seriously. It may even lead to resentment through a lack of financial or creative freedom.
Don’t be the person who divorces someone because they stopped you reaching your potential. Stop being the person who dishes out what the fans want only to face disappointment later when the audience gets bored and walks away.
Take responsibility for your life. Push the envelope. And remember:
“Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoga
You hung a piece of crap. So what?
Ask any community manager and they will tell you- sometimes you can’t predict what the audience will think. You can get 100’s of likes for a lame joke about cats while the thought out piece of amazing barely gets a look over.
Humans are as fickle as they are brilliant.
Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal was deemed a failure, boring and laborious when it first arrived. It’s now one of the most beloved children’s movies of all time.
George Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back was seen as a failure when it was first released. It’s now seen as a critically acclaimed film. It has grossed over $500 million worldwide and continues to make money.
Radiohead’s OK Computer made the record companies so nervous, at times they considered pulling the pin on its release. And we all know how popular and well regarded it is now.
You only have to Google how many artists, writers and film makers who never knew fame in their lifetime to realise that hanging a piece of crap isn’t such a bad thing.
And if it stays a piece of crap, that’s not a problem either. The pleasure from invention and creation is fuel for the mind. The creative process and what you learn from it is satisfaction. The next layer, learning from the mistake, is more learning still.
Working through a creative process because you have something to say and because you want to leave a little piece of yourself is perfectly wonderful. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s probably better if it wasn’t.
Delight in the rough edges. You can smooth them later if you want to. Break yourself open and feel great about the work you do. If you want to make something that means something to you without the audience knocking on your head, do it.
If it doesn’t work… it doesn’t work. Just like the cake that looks like a 3 year old attacked it with a fire-hose. Or the blog piece that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
You had fun. You got high off the endorphins, you tested the idea and it came up sloppy. No sea otters were harmed in the making of your experiment.
Loving your own creative process teaches you to get it right next time. You make room for the ideas that will make you proud. And you get to play along the way.
Seems like a win, win to me.
It’s crappy and it’s useless but it taught you something somehow. And that lesson is a lot more valuable than someone else’s approval will ever be.
Take a walk to a life less perfect with me.
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