Perfectionist Practices

In creating samples for the book, I do the art first, then write about it. So the first page I do is an experiment. I riff on an idea, create a few takes, and then finally have a specific idea.

leaning-stack-of-papers-and-filesI did the riffing earlier this year, getting to the point where I knew the sections of the book and roughly what the artwork would look like. So all I had to do was make the final piece. And how hard can it be to do a card if I already have the idea and several samples?

Turns out, plenty hard. Because in my head, this next one had to be perfect. And once it had to be perfect, it never was. Card after card didn’t turn out, looked lame, wasn’t what I meant, had unflattering colors. I made mistakes, and when I started over, I made different mistakes.

And time after time, I realized that the card I made when I was just riffing was the card that worked best. The cards in the first group were made with full interest and no fear. There wasn’t any pressure to perform or have it be perfect for the book. It was great the way it was.

That was a big lesson I needed to learn again: when you are playing, you do your best work. When you are working, you are tense and there are too many people watching  and speaking–at least in my head. My crew consisted of imaginary critics: future readers of the book,  my mother, a caricature of my editor (who is incredibly nice in real life) and Sister Michael Augustine, who was responsible for my learning how to write right-handed in 7th grade. Oh, my inner critic was there too, with the family.

Your best creative work is done in play. Who knew?

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on inner heroes and inner critics.