The Creative Process and Fear of Failure
Dear family, friends, and Internet strangers,
I am not good at keeping up with social media, personally or professionally, but I fully enjoy the emails I receive from a handful of quality sources. They feel much quieter than social media, with no spam, ads, or comments full of strangers' opinions stealing my attention before I can form my own thoughts. They feel authentic.
If I like a quieter world, a slower pace, and authentic (if meandering) content, maybe my audience includes people who feel the same. So instead of posting to Facebook (or whatever network) because that's what you're “supposed” to do, I'm doing this.
If you want to know more about what to expect from these newsletters, see the About page on Substack. In short, I want them to feel a lot like letters from me to you.
This month, I’m writing to you about my current creative process, in case it could help you or another creative person in your life, or in case you want to ask me “how’s the writing going?” again.
The Creative Process
There are several projects I want to complete this year, and I’m experimenting with a creative “algorithm” to see if it helps. It has three big steps:
1. Make it real. This means both “make it authentic” and “make it exist outside my brain”. This is the step for having fun and saying what I want to say, not editing or judging its quality.
2. Make it good. Not perfect, or it’ll never be done, but make it good, in both quality and message. It’s vital to take a break from the work when I feel I can’t even tell whether it’s good anymore, and come back to it with fresh eyes. It could be hours, days, weeks, or months later, depending on the project and what it needs. Then I can better see what’s wrong and what’s already good, and edit accordingly.
3. Make it done. Wrap up the project and move forward to the next one. The book Finish by Jon Acuff may be helpful for those who specifically have trouble with this step. Someone just recommended it to me, but I haven’t gotten far in it yet.
If I skip steps in this real-good-done process, or do them in the wrong order, it creates problems. My creative process feels like a maze where I’m running into dead ends, and I think this list is a path through the maze, though I’m still testing it.
If you test it, too, let me know how it goes. Or if you know of an existing version of this process, I would be interested in that information. I think subscribers can hit “reply” on the emails, or if I know you IRL, just talk to me!
You may have to revisit this process for portions of a project. For example, as I’m pushing forward on my novel (which I work on sporadically, and tell myself that’s fine because I think Tolkien did the same thing), I’m drafting a chapter, lightly editing the chapter to make it good on its own, moving on to the next chapter, and then at the end of the book I intend to treat that whole draft as my “make it real” draft and make the whole book good, and then wrap up the entire novel.
In this case, I have a draft I finished a long time ago, but I’ve grown and changed since then, so the story is changing, too. I don’t see the world the way I did when I started this in my early twenties. So it’s like starting something new (since I’m rewriting many chapters almost entirely, and creating new ones from scratch) and at the same time like I already have that first “real” draft in my pocket. The overall real-good-done order works regardless.
One remaining large hurdle for me in this process is:
Fear of Failure
Maybe from growing up “gifted”, I had this sense that anything I couldn’t do well instantly was not for me. But failing in private is often required for success in public: terrible first drafts, difficult sections of a piece of music that require repetition and detailed study, inventing light bulbs. Or, in the case of bouldering (rock climbing without a bunch of ropes), deliberately falling with good form from a low height makes it safer to fall unexpectedly when climbing higher. Also, a floor made of crash pads helps.
The real-good-done process works, I believe, because it takes failure off the table for a while. The marker for success for step one is only that it is authentic and exists. I can do that! And I can edit an existing thing in step two. And I can declare a thing done in step three. I just can’t perfectly create a finished project in a single step. I didn’t even do that for this letter. I drafted, edited, walked away, edited some more, and then decided it was done.
The point is, if I’m not comfortable with mistakes, and if I don’t fail when it’s safe to do so, I can’t do much of anything. So I’m working on that, project by project, with growing faith that God is in charge of the outcome, I need to obediently do my work, and His glory doesn’t rely on my perfection.
Currently reading: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Currently playing: Stray by BlueTwelve Studio (trigger warning for Mom: a cute cat in a sad, dangerous situation)
Next email date: Second week of February, topic TBD
Happy 2023! Thanks for joining me on my writing journey.
P.S. Feel free to forward these to people who may enjoy them!
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