Do you have the confidence to create crap?


There are times when I know that I've created something that just isn't good. A blog post that is more words than meaning, a scene without any tension or a photo that has no composition at all. It's frustrating, when you're trying and failing to make something meaningful.

It happens that I share those frustrations with the world and sometimes kind-hearted people respond with

I don't think there are any bad creations. All that we create have value.

It's well meant, of course, meant to reassure me, to help me keep creating. Maybe it's meant to point out that creating in itself has value. But those comments always make me uncomfortable.

Are we really so scared of failing that we try to ignore that everything we create isn't good? And if we can't accept that we sometimes create badly, how are we supposed to get better?

We deeply fear bad results

Many of us were told as kids that being creative was being good at drawing, singing, painting, writing stories. That talent in a craft was what made you one of the creative ones.

If you create something ugly and uninteresting, there's often a whisper in the back of your mind that it means you should quit. That you're not really creative after all. That you've been found out. 

So we nurture a crippling fear of creating badly, which can make us either not dare to create at all, or to create but desperately ignore that what we create may not be good enough.

We long to be part of the creative world and we fight so hard to feel a decent level of self-worth in our creative lives. To have the courage to create, go after our dreams and share what we make with the world, we have to fend off that inner critic. 

But we can't fool ourselves. Deep inside, we know when we create something that isn't good. It freaks us out, makes us feel like frauds. Our impostor syndrome flourish and we try harder to convince ourselves that we're good enough. 

We stop taking risks. We stop experimenting and trying new things. We stick to what we know, what we think we can create safely.

We stay as far away as we can from the discomfort of producing bad results. It's not worth the risk of being kicked out of the creative community.

But at the same time, we stop growing. Creativity isn't supposed to be neat and controlled, it's supposed to challenge us. If it can't do that, we can't get better. 

We need to create crap

If we hold on to the fear of failure too fiercely, we hold ourselves back from success. In an experiment described in the book Art and Fear written by David Bayles and Ted Orland, a ceramics teacher told half his class that they would be graded on the quantity of their work and half on the quality.

When it was time for grading, it turned out that the works of highest quality were all made by the group being graded for quantity. 

We need to create a lot, and we need to create badly to learn what works and what doesn't. When we get stuck striving for perfection, we hold ourselves back from what we're really capable of.

Those who said that only the talented ones are allowed in were wrong. Talent comes from hard work, from going through the process of creating lots of meh. It's not just something we're born with.

So can we please stop listening to those old fears and grow the confidence to create crap? Can we embrace the process of learning, with all the errors that it will ? 

We need to stop confusing our creative self-worth with the outcome of our work.

You are always worthy, no matter what you create. You don't have to produce unique, deeply moving art or write like your favorite author to have self-worth as a creative. It's creating in itself that makes you creative and you're always allowed to make whatever you want.

The last thing I want to do is to make anyone start thinking that all they create is shit. I just want to make you see that not producing excellent results is okay. It's part of growing, part of learning, part of creating.

So let's fail and be proud. Let's honor our shitty drafts and flawed attempts.
Because they are proof that we're doing the work.