Here’s the thing. Your work is probably not that good. Neither is mine. But you’ve got to make lots of it and so do I. There’s an amazing anecdote about two groups in a pottery class. The first was asked to make one perfect pot. The second group was asked to just make lots and lots of pots. This second group would be graded by weight alone. The first group would be graded on the excellence of the one perfect pot. Guess who did the best work? The second group. They made more creative work, more unique, and more interesting. The lesson I take from this story is that making work that is perfect is a mug’s game. What one really needs to do is make a lot of terrible, terrible work.
Ann Lamott, in her excellent book about the writing life, Bird by Bird, calls this making “shitty first drafts”. She writes, “All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts…for me and for most other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all it to write really, really shitty first drafts.”
Sadly there’s really only one way to get better and that’s to do really badly. Believe me, I find this infuriating as you do. I do not want to be exposed like this. I do not want to make this terrible work and I really, really don’t want to share this terrible work (more on that next time).
Maybe because I am a reluctant creative I love the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. In it they basically say: Nobody cares about the process by which your work gets made. They care about the product. And the only way to improve the product is to make more of it. And the only way to make more of it is to get used to making bad work. And the bad work is the golden key. Because the bad work is the only way you will learn how to make good work. Because your work is your teacher.
So if, like me, you’ve been up fretting about something at once trivial and really scary and “get-at-the-core-of-your-deepest-fears” type stuff: embrace your terrible work.