I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creativity, and how we often tell ourselves NO when it comes to projects we’re passionate about.
We stumble over ideas or projects that seem so large, so out of our comfort zone, that we allow our fear to overcome our desire to create. We tell ourselves that we’re not ready, or that we must learn some technical or specific aspect of the creative process with which we’re unfamiliar before we can begin. We make excuses.
“I can’t write this historical novel set in the Great Depression! I don’t know what people wore, or drove, or ate.”
“I can’t produce a web series! I don’t know a thing about Final Cut Pro! Or three-point lighting. Or script formatting!”
“I don’t know HOW to record a podcast!”
“I can’t paint this canvas. I don’t even know who Mondrian WAS!”
Confession: I’ve used a combination of all of those excuses in order to give myself permission to stop when the creative work gets difficult. It all boils down to: I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
Especially when you’re in the middle of a project and no end is in sight, you reach a point where you simply don’t think you can go on any further. It’s like you’ve parachuted into the Gobi desert, and every step forward leads you further into the wilderness. So you go back. You tell yourself: I wasn’t ready. I can’t.
Here’s a secret: You can. I can. We can.
I’ve got three “passion projects” right now that are keeping me awake at night. Two of them are web series projects, and I admittedly don’t know the first thing about how I’m going to do them. One is simple. One is complex. So I’m going to work on the simple one first, learn from the experience, and then tackle the more complex one. I don’t have a degree in filmmaking, and don’t want one. I want to take on the projects I want to tackle, and don’t give me no guff about what I can and can’t do.
The third passion project is an idea I’ve rejected for a long time: a Southern gothic novel whose idea pretty much sprang into my head fully formed. It has the potential to be a truly powerful book, and — to be frank — I’m scared of screwing it up. I’ve got a fairly solid grasp on my talent level as a writer: My desire is Cooperstown. My ability is Pawtucket. So I have this incredible idea bearing down on me like a bull charging an unwitting matador. I’m afraid I’m not up to the task. I’m afraid the work won’t be perfect.
I’m afraid. That’s it. That’s all.
I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way. For me, it comes down to the fact that if I don’t pursue those ideas, I won’t fail. I can’t speak for every wanna-be novelist, filmmaker, or other creative out there, but that’s my big fear. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to put out something that’s flawed.
But as I was thinking about it, I realized that flawed is OK. Everything — even the things you love — is flawed. Your favorite book, your favorite author, your favorite music. It’s all flawed. Even your favorite TV show.
Yes, Captain Tightpants, even Firefly.
So do the work anyway. Jump in with both feet. Who cares if you can’t swim? That fall will probably kill you, anyway. And if you don’t die from sheer fright, you’ll learn something. You’ll improve the next time. And the next. And the one after that, too. Allowing yourself space to create, to fail, and to succeed is all part of the process.
No, not that process. That’s THE Process (copyright Nick Saban). Stay with me here. I know it’s football season, but let’s concentrate on the subject at hand.
What I’m trying to say is that you can create. You can move forward without knowing everything right now. Hey, you can move forward without knowing ANYTHING right now. You’ll learn as you go. So will I.
There’s a simple way to stop frustrating yourself when it comes to your creative ideas. Stop sending them away. Stop ignoring them. Stop telling yourself that you’re not good enough, not talented enough, not ready. When an idea comes along and asks you to love it, do the right thing.
I want to be clear that there IS a time to research and to learn the things you don’t know. It’s important to insert those kinds of details into fictional work. It’s like a silversmith adding detail and flourish to finish a piece of jewelry. But all of that comes later: not knowing details or specifically *how* to do something is not an excuse for not putting forth the effort. By all means, research, add detail. Enrich your work. But do not let those things stand in the way of — nor stand in place of — doing the work. Certainly research and learning is PART of the work. But it’s not all.
And sometimes in your ignorance, you may create a beautiful thing that no one else has seen. (To be fair, you also may create a garbage fire. But hey, it’s YOUR garbage fire.)
Say yes to the idea. Say yes to making mistakes. Say yes to putting out a flawed and imperfect piece of work, especially if the alternative is putting out no work at all.