Super artist Noah Bradley once posted this on his Mastodon feed:
Sketches are a really important part of my process. Until you’ve done an actual sketch, there’s almost no way to tell if an idea is worth pursuing.
So sketches are a low-investment way to trial an idea. If one turns out particularly well, I can spend the 20-30 hours to finish it up.
I’m glad he posted this, because my reply helped me articulate a lesson I’d learned earlier in the year:
I’m finally waking up to this idea (esp in thumbnailing towards a specific end). Often I have a great idea in my head. While it’s up there, the ideal image is too amazing for me to even try and tackle. But if I start thumbnailing and playing, suddenly the abstract is concrete, and when it’s concrete, I can see what needs to be done to get the piece going where I want it. Thanks for your terrific reminder.
Absolutely. It’s so easy to stay stuck in your own head and get so wrapped up in thinking an idea is perfect without actually making it.
It’s not perfect, but it does what I want.
I came across this quote on my Mastodon.art feed many months ago, attached to what I thought was a very cool picture. I boosted it, but also had the presence of mind to write it down on a Post-It note that I stuck above my computer*.
As far as I’m concerned, it deserves to be listed alongside the greatest art quotes of all time.
I come back to frequently. Because as a perfectionist-in-recovery it’s so easy to want to noodle and noodle (or sometimes NOT EVEN START) on a piece until you feel it is “perfect.”
But “perfect” isn’t the point, not to the viewer. The point is to evoke something.
Lots of things I enjoy evoke joy or laughter or awe or mystery without being absolutely flawless. (And sometimes, the flaws even add to my reaction!).
This quote’s helped me say, “You know what? I could noodle/add/whatever a ton more on this, but at this point, IT’S DOING WHAT I WANT. So even though it’s not technically perfect, I can be satisfied with it.”
And then I get to move on to the next thing!
*I didn’t write down the original speaker, though! If you’re the originator of this quote, I’d be delighted to credit you!
Another great post from Seth Godin:
My sourdough rye bread failed. For the first time since I’ve been baking from this starter, this weekend’s batch didn’t work.
I know why.
I rushed it.
I didn’t let the dough ferment long enough.
And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.
That’s not how great bread works. It’s ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be.
Of course, the analogy is obvious. Much of the work we do as creators, as leaders, as people seeking to make change–it needs to ferment, to create character and tension and impact. And if we rush it, we get nothing worth very much.
There’s a flipside.
Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that we’re building something that takes time, but what we’re actually doing is hiding. We stall and digress and cause distractions, not because the work needs us to, but because we’re afraid to ship.
Impatience can be a virtue if it causes us to leap through the fear that holds us back.
This is something I am often conflicted about. On the one hand, I do believe the creative well can be overfished, and some stories need time in the unconscious to develop (or gestate, as the book Movies in the Mind calls it)…but I also believe if you just sit down, the story shows up–and I’ve had the latter happen to me a bunch of times, even during times of great stress!
But I feel the temptation towards for procrastination when a novel or story leaves the first section (introducing the character in a setting with a problem). I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT COMES NEXT but usually the solution is to sit down and just have fun with whatever shows up next. Beat the fear by being willing to try.
But sometimes I’m genuinely tired and need a break, time to rest up and watch Star Trek and doodle aimlessly.
You have to show up. But also…
I’m just not sure which I believe more strongly! What do you think?
In our last episode, I advised that you “write whatever shows up” in your first draft, including seemingly unrelated tangents.
But sometimes…you know…writing whatever shows up just…feels…awkward. And it certainly doesn’t look nice and publishable when you’re done!
Here’s a trick you can use to conquer perfectionism paralysis. It was given to me by Professor McFarland, a German teacher of mine. He said, and I quote:
“Write the worst paper ever.”
This was an actual in-class assignment from him, and it helped me out all throughout college and beyond. Anytime the blank page looks to intimidating, I just give myself the goal of writing the worst piece of writing ever. And suddenly, I can get started!
A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault. ~John Henry Newman