It’s not that I pretend I don’t want my work to be perfect. I do. But I realize—recognize—it can never be so. Yet, I persist, if I’m not paying attention.
Sometimes, it’s good to let something go as it is. And sometimes it’s better to scrap the thing and start again, scrape the canvas, delete the tracks, crumple up the page.
How do we know when to stop? Deadline is a good full stop, but if you don’t have one, it’s an arbitrary point where you’re out of flow, getting stuck in fine details, with little or no progress or change to the big picture.
There will be no bell. No buzzer. You can choose the moment—but sooner rather than later is usually not a bad thing. Your time is all you really have, and making another imperfect thing helps more in the long run than approaching the logarithmic curve of perfect.
DISCLAIMER: watchmaker and Zen master mileage may vary.
I sometimes return to this video to remind myself how often it takes more than a few viewpoints and a handful of revisions to get the best version of a work of art.
It’s telling that it took multiple people multiple attempts to get to the finished initial Star Wars film. Most familiar, probably, is the advice to writers that the first draft is only the beginning of the writing process. Musicians’ demos are another example of an idea that was often made into something greater.
It’s not that art always has to be deeply refined. Sometimes the spontaneity is the reason for a piece. But generally, the idea is brought into sharper focus and more resonant emotional power by honing, tweaking, shifting, and occasionally rebuilding from the parts.
I spent some time trying to figure out why my Firefox extensions suddenly stopped working. I tried endless permutations of wi-fi, browser/computer restarts, until finally searching and finding I’m not alone. So now I wait for the fix.
Frustration is a common emotion in both internet work (and time-wasting) and art. The thing you’re working on doesn’t quite measure up to your vision. The idea doesn’t work as well in reality as it did in your head.
It is good to recognize that frustration is normal and we all feel it sometimes. It can be motivation to do something else, or work on the problem. But you do have to keep working on the thing, until it’s finally finished. Art bugs get worked out in process. Or not. At that finishing point, maybe the frustration is still there, but you can move on. Getting caught in endless frustration leads to nothing. Let it alone in the bug fix queue and keep moving.
Unless it’s been boring for a good while, then it’s probably time to dump it for something else. But I found I tend to start skimming when I’m not really focused on reading a book.
One thing that helps me fall back into a narrative or idea structure is to consciously slow down, wringing nuance and understanding from each word until I forget everything but what I’m reading. This helps re-focus, and if you’re not getting lost, metaphorically, you’re Somewhere Else.
Now apply the same principle to your work. Slow down. See if that lets you re-focus and lose yourself.
Think of it like a generic writing practice: we’re told that we just need to keep writing. If that means writing the word “solo” over and over, so be it.
But that doesn’t last long. Thoughts come. Ideas meander. You feel like writing them down. It’s the same in other media. You can only doodle or play a C7 so many times before you’ll think how to change it. And that’s moving forward.
The internet is the ultimate in potential for choice paralysis. Endless reading, gaming, shopping, viewing. It’s amazing and wonderful to have such bounty available. But it’s in our limitations that we find not only creative ways to solve our problems, but also a certain comfort.
When we have too many options, we spend time deciding among them. It’s time that could have been spent working on your thing, or enjoying some other art. Sometimes, the overwhelming nature of possible things to do makes us shut down and just spend our time with the familiar. Films we’ve seen a dozen times, music we could sing along to in our sleep. That’s fine. But when we say we want to try new things, it helps to have fewer options.
I don’t, unfortunately, have a consistent methodology for narrowing internet choices, but I think it’s probably worth working on, if even in a deliberate, manual, conscious way.