No matter how good my work is when I finish and publish it, there is only a short time before I will revisit it and decide I no longer like it. I suppose it is a natural artist’s rhythm, like the ebb and flow of a tidal pool. In the past, I’ve used the dark time for purges, deleting work from public view, only to become enamored with (an edited version of) the work in the future. Sometimes, I never like it again, and it becomes buried within my archives for years.
Photography is especially prone to this, although I must confess the ebbs and flows cycle much faster. It’s common for me to like a shot, create a post, and then dislike it again before the post goes live. Poems are similar, and so I try not to ever read them once I think they’re done. I try, but fail.
It used to be discouraging, to say the least. However, recently, I’ve begun to see the value of the cycle. There is a creative flow, when the words come, when the images are clear, and when I’m upbeat and creative. Then, there comes the editing ebb, where I retrench and realize the piece was flawed, the words imperfect. The difficulty is remembering that it doesn’t mean I suck, to be honest.
For most of the time, in my opinion, my work is full of suck. Chuck Wendig tweeted about this today, in his inimitable style:
Writing is often about kicking doubt in the ass and shoving him out the door. Editing is about inviting him back in for tea and scrutiny.
— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) March 18, 2013
So it’s not just me. Or you. It’s all of us. I don’t start the editing process when I’m in the negative part of the cycle; I’ll be too harsh and slash too much. Instead, I make notes — mental or otherwise — on what needs to be improved. Then, when I’m once again feeling positive and creative (though quite a bit more humble) I’ll start the process of fixing it.
Ebb, flow, build, tear down, rebuild.
I suppose if I never saw how full of fail I was, I would never improve at anything. More importantly, if I never allowed others to see my crap, I would have no incentive to grow. It’s easy to be mediocre in private. What is challenging is forcing yourself to fail in public, to present an imperfect work, and be embarrassed enough to work your ass off to get better.
Like Chuck, I invite my self-doubt in for tea (Chai, as it softens his blows). However, I also invite the public. You would be amazed at how good a judge of quality silence can be.
4 thoughts on “Chock Full of Fail”
Bill, your honesty, painful as it is, is very comforting to me. As my Twitter description says, I have been called a sculptor that seldom sculpts and a writer that doesn’t write. It’s that self-doubt that gets in the way. I seem to suffer from a fear of failure and a fear of success at the same time. Therefore, I settle for mediocre. I haven’t seen everything you have written (yet) but what I have seen has been IMHO excellent. Keep writing Bill, I’m still reading. Mary
Mary, what I’ve learned is that artists are the worst judges of what is mediocre. We have to put it out there, because what resonates with others is based on who they are, not what our art is.
The poems I’ve written that people have liked the most aren’t my best poems; they’re the ones that are the most honest. People always like the photos I really pass over. What we have to do is be willing to close our eyes and just put it out there. People will be gentle if we ask them to.
I think that’s what most people with blogs are doing. People “like” the work because they’ve liked others’. You build confidence, and in the interim, you grow. I don’t think you should fear either success or failure. It’s not a game, and there are no losers. The only thing to be feared is looking backed and thinking, “I should have done more work.” I went 10 years without writing or taking a single photo. Trust me, you don’t want to do that.
Very true. What counts is that you keep producing and keep others producng too. Creativity is not a zero sum gain.
That’s a good point. I think too many people approach as if it were a contest. If it isn’t perfect, you’ve lost. Art isn’t black and white.
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