It’s probably not good enough. If you’re a creative person trying to create creative things and put them out into the world, you’ve probably made this statement. If you haven’t, you’re a freak. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. For most of us creatives, putting our ideas into the world can involve a lot of fears and tussling with our egos. We look at our work in comparison to those who came before us, and we cringe.
We may think of our creations in the same way that Anne Bradstreet does in her poem The Author to Her Book where she describes her newly released book as “Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain.” When I first read this poem, I was a wet behind the ears college newbie with plans to work for someone else. I understood how difficult it can be for creative people to accept their creations as something valuable. I understood the disdain we often feel toward our work and our talents or lack thereof.
I had blank canvases sitting in the corner of my condo for months because I was too afraid to ruin them. My writing back then? I dared not show anyone until, in a creative writing class, I was forced to. You put it out there; you hold your breath; you hope no one notices its imperfections.
Here Bradstreet describes how she attempted to make her book (her offspring) more presentable to the world.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
Pretty bad, huh? But if I thought I understood the extent of her distress as a college student preparing to work for someone else, I was mistaken. There are levels to this hell, let me tell ya. As many of you know, I’ve set out on a journey to live a creative life and profit from it. I work as a photographer, videographer, and more recently, I’ve begun working with businesses as a Creative Coach. I got into these things because I love them; I find them exciting, energizing, and they feed my bottomless pit of creative hunger. Also, I’m pretty talented.
But so was Anne Bradstreet, and that didn’t stop her from feeling dread at the thought of her work going out into the cold, cruel world. It’s hard to feel like a rockstar after reading masterpieces like Hamlet or watching movies like Titanic. These days, even YouTubers are creating amazing content without the Hollywood budget.
So, how does a creative person running a creative business, or thinking about it, get out of their own way?
Started From the Bottom Now We’re Here
You know who said that line? A famous rich person. The keyword here is bottom. The way our brains are set up, we like to imagine that every talented person around us sprang fully formed and capable right out of the womb. Instead, we are all “ill-formed” but getting stronger every day. Babies, perfect as they are, can’t hold up their own noggins and they poop on themselves, but we nurture them through it. If you scroll back through any creative person’s portfolio, you’ll see their growth process. I’ve watched many YouTube videos of photographers, videographers and content creators sharing some of their earlier work and having a good laugh.
Tip: Whichever creative field that you’re pursuing, find those whom you admire and dive deep into their earlier work. Compare it to where they are now. Seeing the growth in others who we consider extraordinary is a great balm for our own neurotic self-doubt.
Growth doesn’t happen by chance. It takes continual learning and practice in order to improve. Study your field. Read books, watch video tutorials, talk to people, listen to podcasts. And just like an athlete who spends hours reviewing game footage, revisit your work. Once you’ve created something, give yourself time away from it and come back later with fresh eyes. What works? What doesn’t work? We like to place creativity and imagination on opposite ends of the brain from the logistical, analytical side, but they are interconnected. Even Jackson Pollock had a method to his madness.
Tip: Make studying your craft a part of your routine. Consider it fundamental to your creative life. That means setting aside time each day or each week, whatever suits you, to study as if you were in school.
Avoid the Research Pit
Study without application is useless. It’s easy to get so caught up in research and neglect the doing. I get it; I’ve been there. You watch a YouTube video on how to get the best focus for your photography. The information is good, but the sidebar is full of other potentially useful videos by different people with different styles of teaching. Before you know it, you’re 20 videos deep and haven’t picked up your camera in a week. Be sure to practice what you learn in a timely manner.
Tip: Set limits to how much time you spend on research before actually doing something. Maybe watch no more than 5 video tutorials; if you’re reading a book, actually work on the action steps at the end of the chapter before moving on to the next chapter.
Take the Narrow Road
If you find yourself intimidated by how much you need to improve, pick an area. You don’t have to perfect everything at once; it’s okay to choose one or two points to work on at a time.
Turn That Coal Into Gold
Remember that every minute you spend in perfecting your craft is valuable, and there will always be others coming behind you who are greener than you are. My advice is to turn those negative self-defeating thoughts into fuel for teaching others. As you go through your learning processes, record your challenges and learning moments. Then when the time is right, you’ll have plenty to share. This not only helps others, but it gets you focused on the progress you’re making and the benefits of sticking with it.
Tip: Be a student and a teacher. When you approach your craft from both angles, you’ll get a lot more inspiration and motivation.
As a fellow creative, I want to do more to encourage your pursuits and help you kick the negative thoughts that discourage you. Which tip do you find the most helpful? And what strategy do you use to move past feelings of self-doubt or discouragement in your creative life?
I’ll be discussing this poem by Anne Bradstreet in more detail on this week’s episode of Lit Talks on Instagram Live. I’m on every Thursday 8pm est. I’d love to see you there!