Sometime in the past couple months, the title of this post popped into my head. I’m not sure its exact source, but I think it appeared in response to starting a new creative project outside my comfort zone (a short comic). Upon getting going on this new comic, I was immediately displeased with what I was capable of producing drawing-wise. I wondered the likelihood of completing a project as difficult as a comic if I was displeased with what I was capable of outputting. That thought led me to a well-worn quote I have visited a few times before:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”
Indeed, the gap between my tastes and what I can produce is often considerable. Like many projects I’ve taken on, it’s not hard for me to identify which specific “tastemakers” have motivated me in the first place. And so the gap is illuminated!
Today, I want to consider this specific excerpt of the above quote:
“the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work”
The only way I see fit to do a lot of work is to have compassion for what you can do right now. Without compassion, you won’t be able to publish and move forward. It’s not enough to start a piece—whatever medium it may be—and give up half way and then move on to starting new pieces without ever publishing. Sure, you are narrowing the gap on your ability to start. But you haven’t actually completed anything; you haven’t refined the skill of finishing.
I think fighting your way through involves finishing what you started. Finishing is a skill. So how do we finish things?
Don’t expect it to be good, expect it to be done.
This new maxim wants you to embrace the gap between your skills and your taste (specifically, embracing the former). Rather than being so concerned about how good something is, at least as a beginner, be concerned with whether it’s getting done. Compassion for yourself means you’re accepting what you can do in the present tense, and that you aren’t shuffling off the completion of something until you’re more technically or creatively proficient.
I’ve always admired the artists I know who just keep making finished work. And of course, most aren’t creating their best work at the beginning of their journey. These are creative people who not only keep moving forward, they aren’t re-writing history, removing their old works that are more naive, or just not as developed as their later works. I see these inspirational individuals as people who exhibit integrity; they honour their journey and process and the artifacts that have come as a result. To me, this is an acknowledgement of being human, an antithesis to perfection.
I wonder what I'll think of this phrase in a few weeks, a few months, in a year. As I've also said to myself in the past — expectations, at all, can be dangerous.