I’d like to throw some thoughts about creativity out at you today. This is something that I touched on during my speech at Meet the Blogger this past month, and I just wanted to delve a little deeper into the subject with all of you. Here’s the thought:
Creating work or being creative is a process and not a destination.
I have to admit out of the gate here that this is certainly not my own original thought. In fact, I don’t know who thought of this first, but I grew up hearing my mother (a successful abstract artist, among other things) saying something along these lines. Still to this day I’ll hear her say, “It’s about the process.” There’s quite a few reasons why I find this thought SO immensely encouraging as someone who strives to live a creative life.
1. It’s OK to suck at first (in fact, it’s necessary).
To me, my mother’s sentiment of “it’s about the process” is a more articulate way of saying, “It’s OK to totally suck at something at first.” Which is just great because, I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m first learning how to do something, I’m usually not very good, at least for a while anyway (and sometimes never, depending on what we’re talking about). There are ALL sorts of examples out there of very famous artists, inventors, and other creatives whose early work wasn’t critically acclaimed or may have even been deemed a total failure.
One example I’d like to share is something from my own life. This past year I took my first wheel throwing (pottery) class. I did this just for fun and to spend time with my mom and sister who I had also convinced to take the class too. I have no ambition about pottery in that I don’t ever plan to make money or achieve any notoriety in the pottery world. So although I wasn’t very good at it at first (and honestly I’m still not very good), it didn’t bother me. I just wanted to learn something new and make something for the sheer pleasure of making. And I accomplished those goals easily.
One thing that this shows me is that when you’re first approaching a new creative endeavor, it’s best to come at it just for the sheer joy of making and not because you dream of doing it for a living or gaining fame in that field. You very well may be able to do these things, but you’ll probably be able to weather the sucking stage better if you don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Or at least that’s how it is for me. This is probably the number one thing I think about when I see someone just starting a blog or just taking up photography, acting, writing, painting, etc., and they want to turn it into a career. They very well may be able to, BUT they’ve already set themselves up to enjoy the process (which is necessary, and cannot be skipped no matter how talented you are) so much less. It bums me out for them and makes me nervous that they won’t be able to sustain the practice because they never fell in the love with the making in the first place.
2. It’s OK not to share your work that sucks. And it’s OK to share it if you want.
Sometimes I feel there’s this misconception that if you don’t share everything, you’re not authentic. And I just can’t get on board with that way of thinking personally. Putting your creative work out there is HARD! Like so hard that many people just can’t do it and never do. And for that reason today, I’d like to give you permission to not share anything you don’t feel ready to share. It’s fine. I don’t think you’re pretending to be perfect if you don’t show me all your mistakes. Feel free to go hide by yourself for awhile and just create a bunch of work that totally sucks. You’ll learn so much! And I don’t think you need to be worried what I think of all that work—it’s your creative journey, so feel free to keep it private if you want.
Now I’m going to tell you the opposite. And that’s because if you want to share what you’re working on that isn’t very good yet, that’s perfectly fine too. You’ll need to be real with yourself and know that you might get some tough feedback (especially if you’re sharing online—the internet can be tough), but you also might need that accountability of putting stuff out there, and I get that too. If you want to share things before you feel you’ve mastered something, go for it. I think putting work out there is one of the fastest ways to push yourself to the next level creatively because it forces you to face feedback (from others, but also from yourself) and can help to push you forward.
Side note about this: if you see a fellow creative putting work out that you think isn’t that great, be honest but kind. The honesty will help them grow and the kindness will be appreciated and repaid to you one day. Karma and stuff.
3. Your best attempt will ALWAYS be better than your best intentions.
We can fill our lives with excuses if we want to. We’re too busy to work on XYZ. We’re too tired from work, family, other demands, etc. We’re afraid of what others might think. We’re afraid of wasting our time. The list could go on and on, couldn’t it?
Don’t fill your life with excuses. Finish your best attempt, and when you’re ready, put it out there! You will learn and grow so much. No matter what else happens, your life will be enriched from the act of being creative. I know, it probably sounds crazy, but I really think it’s true. I think we were meant to make. And the rest is beyond us anyway, so don’t sweat it too much. The best thing you can ever do for yourself is set a deadline to finish and hit it. Simple, but SO hard sometimes.
The bottom line is this: a creative life is a long, messy, and super fun life. It’s not all perfect. It doesn’t all have to be lived in public. And the most important thing: it’s yours to live and to enjoy. I hope you find this as empowering as I do.
Welp, there’s well over 1000 words on the creative process. I don’t want this conversation to be one sided, though, so feel free to share your thoughts and comments too. xoxo. Emma
Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photo edited with A Beautiful Mess actions—you should try them. Nudge, nudge.
It’s so important to give ourselves permission to “suck”! Especially with the creative process. I find my biggest hurdle is self-criticism. I miss how easy it was as a child to get miraculously messy with paint and markers!
I’ve been looking to wanted to start painting but always something stopped me. And today I have read your advice and after I painted a little pic. Yes, looks suck but I’m happy) Thank you a lot, you gave me a push to start)
How encouraging. I love your advice. I’m not from a creative field by any means but I’ve recently (a year ago?) discovered the joy of making things with my hands. I could certainly relate to the “it’s ok to suck at the beginning” bit and hopefully I’ll be creating things of my own soon!
I love love love to make.
Definitely agree with all three of your points. So very true.
Have you ever read Art and Fear? Based on this post, I think you’d enjoy it. It talks about how your work (and your failures especially) is the only guide to show you how to move forward in your creative endeavors.
I’m all about the process in general, and I love the process of most of the things I do.
This is what my jobs (after graduating university) have been all about: The process.
But the creative site of me does it as well, I began blogging 9 years ago to improve my writing. Same goes with everything else that can be labelled creative.
I have met too many professionally where the focus was only on the product, not how we get there which (often) gives a weaker product in the end, because the process is viewed as something boring that leads to the product.
I agree it is so important to stretch your creativity; trying new things or approaching the familiar in a new way.
I just started working on a project I’ve had in mind for several years, and yes at first the things I made Sucked! But, as I kept going, I saw what didn’t work & how I could improve my methods & materials to achieve the effect I wanted. I may never show anyone those first attempts, or they may be transformed into other things, but they were important, worthwhile, and even imperative to get to the other side!
So helpful to read this. I often overthink a creative idea and defeat myself before I even begin, I need to remember to not be focused on a perfect result, or way to make money off of an idea. I love when you guys write about creativity and goals 🙂
What an awesome read! Thanks for this 🙂 x
Czy nie wydaje się wam, że rośnie nam mało kreatywne pokolenie.
This has really filled me with encouragement. I have enjoyed being creative since I was a child but as I have gotten older the thought of failing seems to scare me more than ever. Losing confidence in my ability just leads to excuses and it is one vicious circle. I know that it is ok if the creative process takes awhile and isn’t exactly perfect it is not the end of the world but that doesn’t stop the frustration when it does look crappy. Although reading somebody else’s thoughts on it makes you feel that your not alone. Heres to being happy with what ever the first attempt looks like!
Thank you. 🙂
Emma, so eloquently put, and chimes perfectly with what’s going on with me. I’ve been working on my first book, and feeling dispirited because I know it’s not right, but until recently I didn’t know what was wrong…
That was until I edited Chapter 8, and realised that I’d gone horribly wrong in my story, and there was loads I could do about it. It’ll be a lot of work, but it will result in a much better story.
I’m feeling positive and optimistic about my story for the first time in a while, and it’s all because of being bad until I get good.
I’ve gone into lots more detail about what was wrong, and how and why I’m putting it right in a new blogpost, here: http://ohwedo.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/rejecting-rape-in-high-fantasy.html And while I’m embarrassed I made the mistakes I made, I’m telling people about it because I can, and should, put it right.
Thanks for sharing this post. Thought I’d share right back.
Encouraging words, it is very important for us to never shy away from trying something new due to fear of failure.
Thank you so much for this article, I needed to read this today. I’m trying to make changes in my personal life right now and creativity is a huge part of that. I have a great family, but the way that I was raised was so focused on making sure everything is done perfectly all of the time and there is very little focus on enjoying the journey. Also creativity is seen as a hobby and never anything you DO something with in your life.
This blog has been such an uplifting thing to read every week, or day if I can manage the time. Thank you for being so genuine and sharing these articles with everyone. It really does make a difference. It has for me.
I needed this today! Creativity is not my problem executing it like I have in my mind is. What I make never lives up to what I wanted it to be and something that perfectionism takes over. Latily I’ve been down about my art not being where I want it to be and am wonder if it’s possible to accomplish my dreams. I need to learn to give grace and learn to love the proccess.
Great post, Emma! I always find that my perfectionism keeps me from creating and I’m learning to let that go and enjoy the process. Thanks for sharing!
I haven’t listened to it yet, but I need to! I saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak a couple of weeks ago. She is just wonderful!
Thank you so much for this post!
As a Fashion student, I totally recognise the tendency to focus on the end result in your mind and try to “skip to the end”. And it’s so wrong! I think one needs to be ready to fail and fail again and lose the cool to actually discover something worth discovering. What a boring world it would be if we always ended up with what we set out to find!
I try to remind myself every day that my process has failed unless in the end I created something I could not have imagined in the beginning!
Really inspiring post! I will look at this, when im feeling like im in a creative rut. Thanks for the amazing advice!
wow. I needed this exact peptalk more than I ever could have realized. thank you so much for it. i forget sometimes the intention should be to PLAY moreso than to make everything such a serious, high-stakes endeavor from the get-go! <3