As Crummy As You Wanna Be
You think you procrastinate because you don’t know what to do. This is inaccurate, though. The real reason you procrastinate is fear. In making, you risk failure. That’s a legitimate concern, but you shouldn’t let it stop you.
You’re probably not as good as you’d like to be. Herein lies a paradox, though. If you wait until you’re good enough, you’ll never improve. Sure, you could practice first, but this doesn’t always work. Mastering an instrument isn’t the same as making art.
If you ever took piano lessons, you know this to be accurate. After years of practice, you can parrot another’s music but can’t write much of anything. This is because performing and making tap two different muscle groups. Learning to operate an instrument enhances your performance muscles, but doesn’t grow your creative muscles.
The only way make art is to make art. (When I say art, I mean anything from songs to comics, stories, apps, quilts, or whatever.) Nevertheless, the hurdle remains. You are paralyzed by that question: What if it sucks?
My answer? Let it suck.
Yup, I say if you want to make something great, you have to be willing to suck at it for a while—possibly quite a while. The sooner you get comfortable with this notion, the sooner you’ll produce something notable. Plus, when you accept that you suck, you liberate yourself from fear.
U2, REM, and The Sex Pistols have all talked about not knowing how to play their instruments, when their bands formed. In time, though, they wrote good songs. The punks in particular made a point of getting on with things. They didn’t wait to be good enough; they just made art.
Making art means not doing a bunch of stuff. Don’t read about the right way to do whatever you’re doing—rules will only hold you back. Don’t waste time picking the right equipment—shopping is a distraction. Don’t plan an approach—you don’t understand the environment well enough to know what to plan for.
Let’s say you want to draw comics. I say you get a sheet of paper, and draw just one comic panel/strip. Then put that aside and draw another. Don’t critique what you make. Don’t show your comics to anyone. Don’t second-guess. Just repeat the process until you have a stack of 100 comics to look at. You can do this right now, and have something substantial in your hands by end-of-day. More than that, though, you’ll have some real experience.
If it doesn’t work, lower the bar. Pick up a worse tool. Give yourself a time limit. Make the drawing deliberately bad. Maybe even draw with your non-dominant hand. Suckers obsess over quality, early in the game. In doing so they limit their ability to create. If you want to produce something of your own, I suggest a different tack. Make it shitty, but get something down.
The same applies for music. Avoid meaningful lyrics, good instruments, and a professional recording studio. Write a set of songs about infomercials, using only children’s instruments, and record them on your iPhone. Same goes for a movie: Instead of perfectly scripting something, make a 3 minute film. In it, showcase your kids improvising action movie dialogue and martial arts maneuvers.
Will these suck? YES! Absolutely. But that was unavoidable. Taking weeks (or months, or years) to plan something amazing would have sucked too—because you’re doing something new. It’s better to get something down right now and improve on it, than plan for a home run the first time you play the game. Plus, it’s in the absence of skill that people often stumble upon something uniquely their own.
There are no excuses for not making art right now. Close this browser window, stop distracting yourself, and make something. Make it the cheapest, fastest, silliest, worst art you can make. You might be surprised by where this takes you.