- Scott Adams
“An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it.” - Paul Valery
“Most of what you make is the utter shite that helps you figure out how to stop perpetually
making utter shite so stop worrying so much about the fact that you make utter shite and get
on with the process of figuring out how to make less utter shite and perhaps actually make
something that is merely shite or even one day, if you are very lucky, something that isn't shite
at all.” - Thomas Knauer
Most of your ideas suck. That doesn’t make you a bad person, a bad artist, or any less creative. Any artist or entrepreneur or other creator with a few scars (and a dose of humility) realizes this.
I am embarrassed when I look back at my old notebooks full of skill-less sketches, weak philosophizing, trite designs, and poorly conceived pseudo-conceptual artworks. Good lord, I hope when I am dead and gone no one ever shares them on Antiques Roadshow. Any respect I may have earned in making people think I am creative or smart or a reasonable artist will certainly be obliterated. Like me, most artists use the notebook to get the noise out of our heads. Most artists don’t have Leonardo Di Vinci’s notebooks. (Although, I suspect he had a lot of “shite” in there too, but history just doesn’t talk about those parts!)
Again, this is OK. It’s even good.
And, while I started off saying that most of your ideas suck, I should probably step back and reframe this a bit more positively: some of your ideas don’t suck. (Isn’t that much nicer!?)
In that sense, it is still imperative to fill that notebook with ideas! It’s the only way you make room for new ones, and, more importantly, decide which ones are worth iterating on. And, deciding which ideas to iterate on and how is the key to the creative process, whether in art, business, or life.
You build on the energy and process of iteration, not the fact of that initial idea.
This is a lot easier said than done. Iteration is a discipline, and is developed over time, trial, and much error. So, it also requires deep commitment.
Here are a few tips to consider in your iterative discipline:
Be present with your own creative process.
Creating isn’t just about output. For creators, the process is as much about identity narrative as it is about making stuff. So, locating yourself in your process will help ensure you keep a focused process, keep iterating well, and keep developing as a creator. Alternately, locating yourself just based on your output (how “good” it is or how much you or others “like” it) is a bit of the tail wagging the dog, and will likely drive you to making more of the same.
Work just to work sometimes.
When you get really out of shape physically, the last thing you want to do is go exercise. It’s a vicious cycle that also happens creatively. Sometimes you just need to work, not to make anything in particular, but to remind yourself how good it feels just to work.
Work with a specific sense of purpose sometimes.
Contrary to popular belief, creators aren’t mere wanderers. We don’t create and change and iterate because we lack direction; we do it because it is our purpose. It’s who we are. So, it is important to generate a vision or develop a concept and then execute it to completion. To develop yourself and your practice, at some point, you have to iterate off of complete ideas.
Suspend judgment – then judge honestly.
Work. Step back. Adjust. Work. Step back. Adapt. Work. Step back. Assess. As soon as judgment enters, the process stalls. Save your judgment and that of others until you are ready, until you have completed the above cycles enough times that you aren’t sure what the next “work” looks like. Now, stop and be honest with yourself. Should you work some more? Leave it and come back some other time with fresh eyes? Throw it directly into the garbage?
Invite feedback from critical friends.
Your mind lies to you. It tells you things are happening in your work, that it is looking and communicating a certain way because you want it to, not because it is. Your mind sees what it wants to see. This is why people are generally terrible at editing their own writing, for example. It is important that you find colleagues who understand you, your work, what you are trying to accomplish, and whose opinions and insights you respect. Forgive the vulgarity, but as the saying goes: opinions are like assholes, everyone has one (and most of them stink). That’s not really what you’re looking for.