Getting Past Your Need for Perfection and Finishing Your Work Is Vital

There’s no shortage of creativity coaches out there. Advice abounds on techniques and tools, finding styles, getting inspired and so on. I don’t think it’s stated enough that you should finish your things. People really do get stuck in attempts to make the best thing they can make.

In art school, you often have no choice about finishing pieces, because there’s a bloody deadline breathing down your neck with a fearsome fiery breath, and you’re going to damn well get your ass in gear. I think this is an advantage to paying money for art school. You get a set of projects and have to complete them.

I tend to believe you should:

  1. Work. Exercise your praxis. Do the thing.
  2. Finish the stuff you begin.
  3. Make another thing.

It’s totally true that a lot of would-be artists/writers/musicians never get anything done because they can’t start. They’re so wrapped up in the vision and their (imagined) inability to match it, fear stops them cold. They’re the Never-Good-Enoughs.

Then there are those who start a boatload of things because, hey, art! But they never finish them because it’s hard to get through the boring middle part where you realize it’s a hell of a lot of work to complete things. These are the Forever-Beginners.

One secret I learned pretty fast is that your finished piece will never match your vision—except in extraordinarily rare circumstances. The artists who get a lot of shit done are very okay with this fact, and by getting a lot of stuff done, ironically, they get ever closer to matching their vision to their work.

it happens gradually, but you need things to compare to, and there’s nothing that shows your progress more than the thing you made three years ago, if you kept making things along the way. This is being simply an artist. You’ll learn how long you should take on a piece the more you make.

It Only Takes a Little Energy to Do a Little Bit of Your Thing

When you’re dead beat, there’s zero motivation to work on a project. It happens a lot after the day job for me. There’s not a lot you can do, but even a little effort can get you to the metaphorical—or actual—drawing board.

And that’s what you want. A page a day gets you a novel in a year. A line a day gets you several paintings, or a series, or a lot further along than you would be waiting for fresh energy, a full work day, or the lightning strike of inspiration.

A piece of something every day is you putting up a lightning rod.

Taking a Sick Day, but Nah

When I was little, a sick day meant I stayed in bed and slept as much as possible. It seemed like it was all or nothing, either incapacitated and miserable or some sniffles. I’m still incapacitated now and then, but most days I’m sick I can still work or do things around the apartment. Just more slowly and painfully.

It’s worth working on your thing, whatever it is, and if that involves a studio across town, maybe it’s sketch time or a writing session. Getting something created, something made, feeds into the deep satisfaction and fulfillment we’re cultivating. It’s not medicine, but it will help you feel better.

I’ve Been Obsessed With This Song, Since I Tend to Obsess

For the past couple days, all I can hear in my internal soundtrack is Kacey Musgraves’s “Slow Burn,” from Golden Hour.

It’s a terrific album, on many Best of 2018 lists, and for good reason. There isn’t a bad song on it. But this one in particular feels very close to me. Late bloomers and older artists can tend to get caught up in negative spirals of feeling like we aren’t getting anywhere, that our time has passed. But it’s always possible your time hasn’t yet come, at least where recognition or attention of some kind that will expose you to a new audience or group.

It’s a precious message: it’s okay to do you own thing and let whatever’s going to happen, well, happen in its own time.

The thing to concern yourself with in the moment is that you’re doing your best work and it’s filling some need within you. You need to be okay with slowly burning while you wait for the fire to spread.

Sometimes the Way Out Is the Way In

I took this photo for other purposes. But I’ve been staring at it, wondering if there’s a message to be extracted. Exit and entrance are the same opening. It’s the same size and appearance for both, nothing is different except which side you use.

Is art the same? Existence? Work, consumerism, relationships, comedy, water? I’m not sure. We can only interpret for ourselves and keep moving forward. If it means it’s time to turn around and go out the way we came, we’re still working on the journey, and still not giving up.

You Can Be on a Journey and Not Know Where You’re Going, and Your Work Is the Same

It’s something to think about. There’s a lot of advice and wisdom about starting long journeys, of a thousand miles or otherwise, but little about recognizing where you are if you don’t know.

But it’s okay. It really is more important to be journeying. If you keep traveling on, you’ll get somewhere, find maps and direction and purpose. And people.

Remiss

What I haven’t done much, here, is talk about what I’m doing. I think—and feel, double emphasis there—that the thumbnail doodles at the top of many posts aren’t really an indicator of ongoing process tracking, so there should be some balance to the endless advice and prescriptive know-hows I seem to have in endless supply.

One of the things I’m working on—s l o w w w l y y—is a series of 11 small paintings I pledged to people over a year ago. Be fair, year-and-a-half.

It’s a bit strange to go back and forth from analog to digital. Some things are easier in physical media: texture, random surprises, depth, the subtle wonder of a unique object. Some things are harder: development time, corrections—oh for an ‘undo’ when I smear or put too much of something on a canvas—and precision.

Here’s hoping I won’t be too much longer finishing and can finally notch off this project and start the next.

In the Middle of the Block

Lots has been said about getting started in a creative habit, or a creative project. Plenty has been written about finishing what you start and what happens after you get something done. What about how you do the middle bits?

It seems trite to say you just keep going. That’s obvious but logical, only there’s more to it. There’s understanding that the feeling of being in the middle of a thing vacillates back and forth between flow and floundering.

Flow is the state of losing yourself in the work. It’s being “in the zone.” Stephen King, in Misery, calls it falling through “the hole in the paper.” What you’re after is to recognize that feeling and try to find it as often as you can. It’s a weird kind of addiction, but constructive, not destructive. It’s something that sustains us through the middle bit.

Floundering is the opposite feeling. It’s anxiety, overthinking, awareness of what you’re doing. It’s a state where you’re unsure and searching. It’s actually potentially useful, because it’s where you can take in the big picture and see where you’ve been and where you might want to go. Nothing is all or nothing where creative work is concerned. It’s constantly moving and changing.

I mean, deal with it. And enjoy this part, because it’s where you spend the most time. The journey isn’t just the reward, it’s the part of life where you’re living.


PS The title is a reference to this They Might Be Giants cover of a song by Vic Mizzy.