Ken wrote a post about excellence over at Mildly Creative that really struck a chord with me.
It feels so good to be excellent. You’d just as soon keep doing this thing that you’ve mastered. You’d prefer to continue gracefully skating your perfect figure eights until the end of time, but you know there’s more to this creative life than that. You need something new in your old bag of tricks, but you can’t stand the thought of beginning again.
But begin you must if you wish to go further, and in order to begin you may need a break from being excellent.
I couldn’t agree more, but I’ll go a bit beyond nodding my head in agreement this time.
The common advice that people give about focusing on one particular thing is way over-rated for most creative people. Sure, you may only be able to be truly excellent at a few things, but the creative process is driven by disparate experiences and ideas. Create the same thing in the same way everyday and your creations will match how bored you are.
But when you introduce new experiences and ideas, creativity happens. If you’re a writer, read a book on design and try it out. Yes, you probably won’t be any good. But you’ll notice things about the layout of paper and whitespace that you never thought about before. The next time you write, you’ll see your words differently. And sometimes that’s enough to inspire you and jumpstart your creative process.
Beyond that, though, the path to excellence is paved with a bunch of failures and missteps. We become excellent by doing things repeatedly and learning from our actions, but many of the products of our actions aren’t themselves excellent. Sometimes they suck. Sometimes they’re awesome. Our goal should be getting to good enough – but even then our goal isn’t to get to excellent on the first shot.
The usual result of worrying about excellence or perfection before you start creating is that you’ll never start creating. Let go of how good the end product will be and embrace the act of creating. Excellence comes as a byproduct of continual creation and learning.
Ken is an awesome writer and runs a great blog – if you like what you see here, you’ll definitely like what he’s up to over there. Run – don’t walk – and check out Mildly Creative.
Deb Owen says
I haven’t seen Ken’s post yet today, but I couldn’t agree more with this point. Creativity needs to have room to be messy and imperfect.
And maybe we’re all on the same wavelength….but perfectionism will not only keep you from starting anything sometimes, it will also erode your self-esteem as you always find yourself coming up short.
Thanks for this!
All the best!
.-= Deb Owen´s last blog ..common blocks to creativity (and life) =-.
Ali Hale says
I’m slowly getting better at letting go of “perfect” … and I know exactly what Ken means about settling for the things that are easy to be excellent at. The times when I really learn, though, tend to be the times when I feel like I’m fumbling around in the dark.
With my fiction writing on my MA course, some of the scenes I found very tricky to write (and was very unsure about) are the ones which other students and my tutor have praised the most.
I’ve cast perfectionism to the wind for the moment: my latest creative project is learning to knit. Five rows in and, well, to say it’s “far from perfect” would be a bit of an understatement…
.-= Ali Hale´s last blog ..Review of Cloud Living (Glen Allsopp) =-.
Michelle Russell says
Charlie, you’re absolutely right that “the path to excellence is paved with a bunch of failures and missteps.” The problem is, we’re so indoctrinated into the must-be-successful mentality that it takes constant vigilance to even *notice* how often we’re plugging into that felt need to be excellent, and a lot of inner energy to deliberately change course. That kind of vigilance is exhausting, and sometimes I allow myself to slip into unconsciousness because conscious awareness and growth are just so much work. I can’t be that aware **all** the time.
I guess you might say that I’m aiming for perfect imperfection, but I’m not there yet. ;o)
“Let go of how good the end product will be and embrace the act of creating. ”
Excellent point. I’m going to riff on it for my audience. Academics struggle with perfectionism a lot. If I can come up with a knitting example to go with it, my post might even come close to perfect 😉
.-= JoVE´s last blog ..If you had one more week… =-.
“The usual result of worrying about excellence or perfection before you start creating is that you’ll never start creating.”
Yup ! I’ve met this before so many times, thanks God I’ve been able to learn my lesson in the end 🙂
Cath Duncan says
Ken is a gem! Love that you’ve found him 🙂
Laura at the Journal of Cultural Conversation says
Just came across your site and am finding so many “nuggets” of useful information here. I particularly like this recent post, since I personally put so much pressure on being excellent the first time around…but I do agree that once the creative process starts, ideas flow from there. Here’s hoping! Glad to be a part of your community. – Laura
.-= Laura at the Journal of Cultural Conversation´s last blog ..Brilliant Voices: An Interview With Jeannine Hebb =-.