You know the feeling, right?
You have an idea. Something you want to create, a vision, a little dream longing to be brought to life. It's tickling the back of your head, pulling you towards creating. You decide to do it. It's going to be brilliant. It's such a beautiful idea.
And then you just can't do it.
Not because you're creatively blocked or especially terrified of the project, but because you just can't figure how to bring it to life. Something - your technique or skill or understanding of the subject - is lacking. Your creation refuses to turn out the way you imagined it.
So like any healthy creative, you feel like throwing something across the room. Preferably something that will break. While screaming.
More likely we slam our laptop shut or grumble while we carelessly clean our brushes or throw the knitting back into the bag. Then we walk around like black clouds, freak out a tad, cry for a bit and conclude that we'll never be good enough.
Then let me just first say this:
You're not alone.
Most recently, I tried to paint a stormy sea in watercolors and realized I absolutely could not paint a stormy sea in watercolors.
When it was three in the morning and I had tried to follow Youtube guides, tried to copy paintings, made a whole bunch of ugly drafts, I was angry and upset and stressed. So I grumbled and threw together my papers, crashed to the bed and cried while complaining to my boyfriend that it was taking too long to figure it out and that I'd never get a hang of it.
He reminded me that I've only dabbled with watercolors for a few months, and that it was kind of arrogant to think that I could do what others had practiced for years to be able to do.
It was a good point. I felt a bit silly and stopped crying.
So instead of deciding that I was an eternal failure at painting stormy seas, I got up the next morning, made myself a cup of tea and decided I would be stubborn instead of a failure. Then I kept painting my stupid stormy sea.
Now what do you think happened?
...and I thought to myself: Congratulations Elin, you just realized you need to practice to get better. Big wow. Such insight.
So secondly, I want to say this to you, fellow frustrated creator:
You're not a failure, you just haven't practiced enough yet.
Exchange your stamp of failure for a stamp of stubborn, and get back to it. It won't get good by itself, unfortunately. Though sleeping on it can give you a helpful distance to look at it with fresh eyes.
But when you get back to it, know this.
It's uncomfortable to not be able to create what we want to create.
It just is. No matter how irrational or silly it might be. Trying to create something and struggling is uncomfortable. Regardless of whether it makes us question our self-worth or not. Regardless of whether we've created a thousand different things before. New territory where we create things we believe to be unsatisfactory - it's awkward.
One of my absolutely favorite quotes on the creative process is one by Ira Glass.
“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. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
This quote has helped me so many times to get out of my head and back to creating. Not only does it remind us that we just have to keep going, but it also tells us that the gap is there and it's uncomfortable.
And it's okay.
We're allowed to feel uncomfortable and disappointed.
It does not mean we should quit.
In fact, it means we should keep going.
Therefore, thirdly, I want you to remember this:
You're allowed to be frustrated and uncomfortable, but do not let it stop you from creating.
Does this mean we have to be uncomfortable every time we create?
No. Absolutely not.
In fact, there's a trick to make this a bit more comfortable.
Instead of trying to paint that exact picture you have in your head or write that story with the exact feeling and weight you want, or whatever it is you want to do, try to make this version just a tad bit closer to your vision.
Let it be imperfect and flawed and messy.
Let yourself be imperfect and flawed and messy.
Slowly, step by step, slip closer to that dream.
Experiment. Allow it to get worse to figure out how it works, so you can get closer again. Let trial and error be your teachers. Make a hundred drafts. Make a thousand. Lay them out on the floor and see how each version is a step closer to what you want.
Now, throw your project across the room if you have to, you may even say ugly swearwords to it, but then pick it up and get back to work.
Because this is the last thing I want to say to you today:
You'll get there, draft by draft, if you're stubborn enough.
Oh and the stormy sea? It's still far from what I want it to be, but it's closer. And I'm only at draft fifteen or something like that, so I have a lot of work ahead of me.