Don’t Hate Your “Work in Progress”

I have a little confession to make: I’m often disgusted with my own efforts while I’m making art.

If I’m trying to design a web layout, I get frustrated if the design or the implementation just won’t align right; if I’m writing a bit of story, I get mad when I just can’t seem to script out the scene stuck in my mind. And that’s to say nothing of how I try to learn a new piece of music. I absolutely hate how slowed-down and imperfect the piece sounds if I can’t seem to play it correctly at normal speed. (As a child, I used to burst out crying and run from the room because that sound created such anxiety in me–playing it slow made every song sound stupid, and it made my skin crawl!)

This is part of my perfectionism, and I would wager that many fellow creative people go through similar emotions–the gripping fear/frustration of the physical creation not matching the mental idea. But this isn’t a healthy mindset, either for your creativity or your sanity. In fact, this mindset has kept me from a lot of my best work.

How This Actually Stunts Your Creativity

This fear, disgust, and frustration is one reason my novel isn’t published; it’s a reason that I wait so long between layout designs for my websites. I hate looking at (or listening to) a half-finished product and detesting what I see because it doesn’t match the perfection in my mind. But as much as I hate seeing the terrible, muddy chaos of a half-finished work, it’s part of the process–and it must be endured, if I’m ever going to finish anything!

For example, this week, I’ve finally begun to write on my novel again after six months of being completely stalled. As I began to write again, I wondered, “Why did I wait so long? What had me stalled?” The answer: I hated looking at my unfinished work and seeing how badly it compared to the awesomeness in my head. (Thus, this article came about, documenting my own silliness and fear; like a bad dream, the negative emotions get easier to bear if you share them.) But I lost six months of writing time just being stalled because I thought the work wasn’t worth finishing. I stunted my own creativity with my perfectionism.

Don’t Make the Same Mistakes I’ve Made!

If you’re suffering these same feelings, and you let them stop you, then you too will be stuck as I have been. Remember, nothing looks or sounds right until it’s finished, whether it’s a painting or sketch, a piece of music, a poem, a novel, anything. This is part of being an artist–being courageous enough to dig into your own work and finish it. And in fact, once your piece is finished, you end up with a much better product, because you’ve subjected it to your own criticism first, and you’re more aware of any flaws or mismatches in your work.

So, today, I encourage you to go back to an unfinished work of yours. Go back to it, and just see what you can do with it. If you have to push aside your first idea and try something new, go ahead; if you need to rework just a bit of your previous efforts to continue on with your next idea, that’s perfectly fine, too. Just don’t be afraid to dig in and get your hands dirty. I promise you, it will turn out better than you think.

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