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.

Searching for Words and Time, and a Sense of Purpose

We do long to have meaning in our lives. We yank it from our stories, the fiction, film, and memoirs we consume. We pluck song lyrics and apply them to our existence like bumper stickers.

It’s not always important to know what you mean with your work. People who read and listen to and look at the things you do will find something that applies to them, more often than not. That’s a good thing, but it’s also what humans are good at.

But, if you, in your struggle to find what to say and how to say it every day, it will help you to have a meaningful framework beneath the thing you’re working on. It connects the deeper parts of you with the physical world. You’ll be putting more of you into your work and thus into the world.

Growth Happens When You Think You’re Standing Still (Not Quite, Though)

That’s an old trope, made prominent by some New Age guru types. “It’s when you feel you aren’t making any progress that you’re growing the most!” It’s a good thing to tell yourself, especially when you’re feeling down about how slowly your work is going, or how terrible it all seems, right now. Conversely, it’s good to stay a bit humble about it when you think it’s brilliant (and I hope you do, sometimes!). An even temperament is the machine that drives a steady flow.

And there’s some truth to the trope, in my experience, but I’d say it’s more true that you don’t know how well your work is progressing in the time you make it. Look back on last year’s work and you can see good stuff and not-so-good.

But we are poor judges of today’s work, yesterday’s work, even last week’s work. It’s not important how you feel about what you just made. Remind yourself that future you gets to evaluate. Present you has one job: keep making it.

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.

The Lost Mystical Art of Understanding Your Work

Psych! There is no such secret knowledge. I’m almost inclined to make this about your day job, but I won’t. That’s maybe a little too “wink-wink,” and you don’t need that.

Most of us who make art really have no idea what it means, or what we’re doing. I mean, we have skills, a practice, routines, starting points, and something to say. But if asked, we usually only have some vague things to say that could as easily go on the description on the wall placard.

To risk yet another contradictory headline, it doesn’t matter as much that you understand what you make. Other people will derive their own meaning no matter what you do, but being really specific would only partly prevent that. It’s great if it’s widely, wildly interpretable by many people, but that still misses the larger point.

You make the art for your own reasons, and you don’t always know what they are. And that’s cool.

Noticing Things About the Work I’ve Been Making

The thumbnails I usually put at the top of these posts turned into a series of connected works recently. I started giving them titles, and the imagery I saw in them made me think of folk tales or myths. I called them New American Mythology along that line of thinking, imagining each image could be part of a larger set of stories that remake the world in their telling.

It’s pretentious as hell, of course. But I tend to gravitate to such grand scales, and I decided to run with it, for now.

But it’s clear to me that most of them are about conflict, and danger, and skullduggery—to be perfectly pirate about it. These are elements I see prominently in the corridors of power at the moment, in government, business, and in people. And one’s feelings tend to come through in one’s work.

I’m hoping I’ll feel like making more hopeful, generous, and open-feeling work next year. Counterpoints to the negatives we see around us are always useful.

Cold Nights and the Intensity of Feeling Alive Mirror Creative Shifts

This is weird, but with winter, the shifts outside in temperature and severe weather can be like those inside.

The cold can be bracing, even exciting, provided we have someplace to be and to warm up again. Starting a creative project can be similar. If we have an idea of the end, of where we might be going, what it looks like to be done, the work can be a thrill.

Going in completely blind is really rare, and scary. We can shut down before we know it. We don’t need a road map, but we also don’t want a completely open-ended journey where we could be gone for a day or for 20 years. We lose patience and enthusiasm with a random wandering. Deciding on some kind of end is as good as knowing there’s a fire at home after the long walk from the bus stop.

Everybody Talks About Rest, But You’ve Still Got to Do It

Don’t forget that breaks are your work’s second-best friend, next to habit. Before inspiration, before beauty, before structure.

If you don’t have time to step back and consider, or time to absorb new ideas from elsewhere, there’s going to be too much intensity or not enough—something.

You can fix things later, and there’s almost always time to, after the thing is finished, but you’ll have a better base and scheme for whatever it is if you’ve given consideration to a little rest between work sessions.

It seems like it’s become fashionable to make the amount of work we spend on a project the important part. If we’ve burned the midnight oil through and finished in one go, so much the better! But my experience is that a steady pace with time off between chunks of making is better for both artist and art.

Seems simple, but rare enough for those of us who are still trying to reach master status.