The Conversation You Have With Your Work

Creative / scholarly work is actually a conversation between yourself (your ideas, emotions, perceptions) and your materials and influences. Or, as glass artist Davide Penso recently put it in an interview in Glass Art Magazine: "I didn't and don't presume to work in glass, but to support it and assign it the task of molding me. Glass enhanced my best characteristics and emphasized its own. In silent agreement, with respect, we use each other." It's probably the best encapsulation of the creative mindset I've read. Perfectionism can get in the way, however. If you start... trying to control the outcome ("I'd better do fabulous work!") rushing ("It's going too slowly!"), or instrumentalizing (seeing the work as a means to an end, as in, "This should get me an A," or "I really want this to be the Great American Novel.") ...then you derail the whole process. Now it's true that we often do want to do great work, meet our deadlines, and impress our audience (teacher, editor, gallery owner, … [Read more...]

Why, in Writing, Process Trumps Product, And Why You Shouldn’t Worry About The Quality of Your Work

Everyone's obsessed with quality, but the way to achieve it is not to focus on it. That's because: 1) Quality is an Emergent Property An emergent property is one that's intrinsic to a system, and that arises organically as that system operates. Think of relationships: if you try to force them, they wither and die. The best relationships are not forced, but arise naturally as the yield of many interactions. Quality in writing and other work similarly occurs organically via an effective process, through your numerous interactions with your subject matter. It's the result of your years or decades of preparation--your reading, writing, training, life lessons, etc. In other words, your ability to write well is "part of your DNA." You don't have to force it. And, in fact, you shouldn't force it because... 2) Striving for Quality is Inimical to the Creative Process If you focus on achieving a quality outcome, you'll likely either: (a) Succumb to perfectionist terror and get stuck midway through; or (b) … [Read more...]

Ira Glass on Developing Your Creative Skill: Go for Quantity, Not Quality

The below 2 minute video of Ira Glass explaining how the secret to artistic quality is to do a lot of art is well worth your time. Bayles and Orland make the same point in their terrific book Art & Fear. They tell a (true, I believe) story of two pottery classes: One class was told to create one fabulous pot by the end of the semester. The other was told to create as many pots as possible. In the end, it was the students who created many pots who also tended to create the best ones. This is for at least three reasons: As Glass notes, it takes a lot of time and practice to develop a skill. The "quantity" students were being nonperfectionist - i.e., focusing on process, not product. (It is likely that some of the "quality" ones didn't finish even a single pot.) Quality is not something you can force, and when you try to force it you sabotage the creative process, which demands freedom and flexibility. Rather, quality is something you work towards and hope for. As Flaubert said, "Success … [Read more...]