So you come up with an idea.
And it is an Amazing Idea™. It’s so brilliant, the old masters will roll over their grave with envy if they learn about this. You have to do something about this awesome idea stat.
And so you did. You started working on it. Days and nights passed by your window. Your work desk is getting more and more cluttered. An upbeat and incredibly motivating music is playing in the background while you are in a montage of maximum motivation.
But then– the needle scratches.
The music stops and you realize… what you’ve been working on this whole time? It isn’t like anything you’ve had in mind. It is not the Amazing Idea. It is, in fact, nowhere near amazing.
You plunge into that deep, dark hole of despair. Repeatedly beating yourself over and thinking, “Maybe I’m not good enough to do this.”
Does this sound familiar?
I like to think of perfectionism as a creative’s very own Kryptonite. See, we somehow follow this unsaid memo that whatever work we’re doing at the moment must be perfect.
That first draft of a novel? Must be perfectly outlined.
That sketch you’ll later post on Instagram? Must be perfectly messy.
That blog post you’re currently writing? Must have no typos.
(Seriously, I’d like to go back in time to find out just who the heck among our early ancestors passed that perfectionist tendencies into our DNA.)
And what happens when this unsaid memo doesn’t get accomplished? You frazzle. You start to panic. You become so caught up in making things 100% perfect that you have 0% energy left to actually finish the work.
You end up repeatedly editing that one line that does not make any sense. Or rereading your unfinished draft to look for typos. Or desperately using water to wash out that part of your drawing that you painted with the wrong color.
At the end of the day, you’re completely exhausted and you realize two things:
1) You’re not perfect.
2) You did not finish anything.
Have you ever felt that way? That you don’t feel happy or satisfied with what creative work you’re making? And you either do a complete overhaul of it or want to throw it to Davy Jones’s locker where you can never ever see it again ever?
Yo I’ve been there too.
Perfectionism was as constant in my adolescent life as acne is. And it was very prevalent in my relationship with my art.
I hated all my drawings. And in the off chance that I do love them, I’d see a mess in the colors or a tiny scratch a second later. And I’d immediately have this urge to do it all over again. Or burn it. For a long time, my perfectionist tendencies made me hate any creative work I made. Be it an essay or a school project collage or a blog post.
Well then, I want you to ask yourself one simple question. The one question I ask myself now whenever I’m bombarded with the need for absolute perfection:
“Will anyone, other than me, notice this flaw?”
Will anyone else take notice of this tiny flaw and think it ruined the entire piece the way you do?
And I learned this is true most of the time. Most people probably won’t see anything. I know this because whenever I point out a small imperfection that has been bugging me for the entire creative process, you know what people usually say?
I don’t see it.
Or, Oh yeah, there is. But that’s so tiny!
Or, It’s not relevant, Kate. What are you talking about?
And this goes both ways. A friend of mine showed me her work and said she wanted to burn it. And I was totally confused because her work was awesome! We sometimes overlook the fact that we spent the most time looking over our work. (That was a mouthful so yes, you can read that again.) It comes to a point where we’re basically seeing everything in a magnifying glass, focusing on the tiniest specks rather than seeing the bigger picture.
Look, of course I’m not saying it’s okay to half-ass around and overlook the little mistakes you make.
You can’t really fully ignore them. You can’t erase the existence of the form/from typo you’ve written, or that stray stroke of watercolor that doesn’t go anywhere. They’re all there. They exist.
But here’s the thing:
Try taking a step back. Hold your paper at arms’ length. Zoom out that Word document to 10%, until all you could see are the pages you’ve written so far. Look at what you’ve made, the work-in-progress in front of you. It’s a messy work-in-progress, sure. It’ll need a tweak or twelve. But sometimes you need to remind yourself that you created something out of an idea.
Bask yourself in that. Because YOU made that.
And all those tiny flaws you see when you’re hunched down, laser-focused on one certain area? They are just that: tiny. Single specks in the huge amazing canvas you’ve created.
Own that amazingness.
That’s all you.
How do you move past the tiny flaws you find in the creative process? Let us know in the comments below so we’ll learn from your wisdom! 🙂
Photos from Aaron Burden and Ivory Mix