I met an artist recently. He exhibits globally in major exhibitions and lectures at universities, so it’s fair to say he’s quite good. I was lucky enough to visit his studio, and it was an eye-opening look at a successful creative process. The thing that really hit me (other than envy at the gorgeous light) was the amount of discarded work.
He pulled out sheaf after sheaf of paper, filled with beautiful paintings. ‘Oh, that’s just some old rubbish, I was just playing around,’ he said. Then he looked at more recent work covering the walls. ‘Yes, I think one or maybe two of these might make the exhibition. Hmm. Maybe just one.’ He paints almost every day, even though he knows most of it will never go out into the world. Most days he thinks what he’s done is rubbish.
But he knows that without this rubbish the good stuff can never come.
All of these snippets and false-starts and rough versions are the bedrock of his art, the playground where new ideas are formed and slowly developed. It doesn’t matter how much gets thrown away because every day’s work is a step toward producing the final pieces.
In fact, it’s possible that the more creative work you discard the better. The book Art and Fear gives the example of a ceramics teacher who split a class in two, telling one half they would be marked on the quantity of work they produced and the other it would be marked on quality – they could submit just one pot if they wanted. He found that the best quality, most beautiful and most creative pieces were all submitted by the group that produced large quantities of work, who had learned from mistakes and improved through constant practice.
So why do we feel as writers that our writing isn’t worth doing if it isn’t perfect at first draft, if it’s small and piecemeal, if we aren’t working on The Next Great Novel? Creativity isn’t about the finished product. Or maybe it is for some people but without a focus on the process, the finished product just isn’t as good.
The point is that the absolute best thing you can do for your writing is to let go, to write MORE, to explore, to have fun, to let yourself produce complete rubbish without judgement.
Who cares if it’s bad? Nobody but you, is the answer.
Nobody ever has to see it, you’ll be doing the thing that makes you happy, and in the long run something worth being proud of will turn up, something you do want to show people. Writing more is a win-win situation in my book.
If you fancy playing around with words, getting back in touch with your creativity and bringing joy back into your writing, I’ve got something coming up for you… keep your eyes open in the next week or two. For now though, pick up your pen and write something. Anything. It can be a list, a scene, a snippet of an idea. Just think of what you want to do and put SOMETHING on paper.
There. Doesn’t that feel better?