Creativity and Crap

I’ve reflected lately on doing new stuff. Part of this is driven by my recent work experiences but a large part is an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with myself over the last two years. It’s been woven into the fabric of my life, taking on the hue and texture of whatever has been going on at the time; ironically, however, the entire things has only really been a back-and-forth between two competing themes.

What a great idea!
You’re a genius!
This is awesome!
You’re awesome!

What the hell are you thinking?
Are you insane?
This sucks!
You suck!

The particular of “this” varies depending on what I’m doing at the time, but the underlying tension most certainly doesn’t. This internal conflict has come up with everything creative or new I’ve ever done — artwork, writing, teaching, business, building a Portfolio Life, and even science. I really don’t like that second narrative. It doesn’t feel good, and it’s not self-correcting. In other words, when I doubt that what I’m doing is good, I rarely feel compelled to produce something better. Instead, I end up producing nothing at all.

A while ago my wife sent me a quote by Ira Glass which has helped me immensely. It’s found a permanent place on my computer desktop, so I end up reading it at least once, and usually several times, each day. Everyone and their mother has posted this quote, but just in case you haven’t seen it, I’ll reproduce it here:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
-Ira Glass

This is an immensely amazing quote, and I find that it gives me comfort when the self-critical parts get out of hand. “Yeah, this is crap. It does suck. But it has to. It’s the only way it will get better.” Maybe it’s ok that for every image I splash out here I have half a dozen half-finished files that I hate too much to even open, much less render. Maybe it’s ok that my book is a little bit repetitive and the jokes are only funny to me. Maybe its ok that the students find some of the lessons boring. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep going and keep working and keep trying the artwork/writing/educational experience I can imagine will burst forth.

Then again, maybe I’m just insane.

Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.
-Ray Bradbury

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