Daily Practice

Practice is necessary to learn anything. Practicing art is another word for getting better.

Practice can take a lot of different shapes. Right now, I’m working on minimalist collage. I was finding it difficult to be as minimal as I wanted to be, so I gave myself permission to do a very busy, color-jammed collage.

When you give yourself permission, your inner critic will show up and tell you that you’ll never sell this “trial and error” pieces. That’s right. You won’t. But I’m not experimenting to sell, I’m experimenting to get better. And unless I try one thing, I won’t know if it works, if I want to do more, or where I need to do some more work.

Here’s the busy piece I did, using a lot of color and largely rectangular or square shapes. Of course, there was a piece of map that didn’t “belong.”

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And here’s the piece I did after that. I found three pieces of paper buried at the bottom of my stash–a highly textured blue and green and a sheet printed with stars. I decided to add a fourth color–the orange Monsoon Paper piece. The moon is cut out of the same Monsoon Paper piece, but flipped over, so the color blending on the back shows up.

page2

Both pieces are very different. And because I gave myself permission to play with the first piece and was very strict with myself that I had to “get some minimal work done” with the second piece, it turns out that I like the first piece better.

Sometimes, in our need for perfection, we forget to play. When we allow ourselves to play, our creative work is better, looser, and more free than the one we put all the constrictions on.

Play is a part of getting better at what you do. Don’t push it out of your life.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves collage.

Perfectionist and Procrastinator, Part 2

Yesterday, in Part I of Perfectionists and Procrastination, you heard about Anne, who missed opportunities because her perfectionism never let her finish a project.

The Root of Perfection.
What causes perfectionism? Research shows that around the age of four, children begin to socialize with the culture they live in. In American culture that means playing in groups, not being too different, not showing above-average intelligence, and following rules. (Later this changes to not getting caught when breaking the rules.)

ColoringInsideTheLinesAround age four, children start spending most of their day in a school-like group environment where behaving according to the teacher’s norms is important—it yields approval.  Children learn to color in the “right” colors, stay inside the lines, sing in groups, write the “truth,” and memorize facts that will appear on standardized text.

Critical thinking is not encouraged. Creativity isn’t either. Both take time, and most schools spend a lot of time preparing the class to get better grades on standardized tests.

Graduation-CeremonyA Little is Good, a Lot is Worse.
Socialization isn’t bad, it’s just overdone. Our parents and teachers tell us to compete, win, get that good job, make lots of money, be “successful.” We compete, and our inner critic  steps up to tell us that we are not good enough, not applying ourselves or lazy. By the time we are in college our goals are to hurry up, win, compete, and stay in the top percentile of school and achievement. And we are almost completely unequipped to do it.

Perfectionism is not all bad. In tiny doses, self-discipline is great, and even the desire to be perfect can be useful–doing careful research, doing original work instead of plagiarizing, being diligent–all are good. When being “perfect” gets out of hand it leads to serious life problems.

The key is separating discipline from  fear of failure. Over-discipline stops us from producing anything finished.

New Idea of Discipline.
There is a new discipline–and it is exactly the right word for what we need to nourish.

The idea stage of a creative project is the fun part,  the part where anything is Lowering-the-bar-300x193possible.  But when we start the process portion of the project, we need to call on a new discipline rather than the critic of negative self-talk.

What we need is discipline enough to push through to the finish and get that wonderful feeling of completion, satisfaction and accomplishment. Even if the project is not perfect.

The Trap of High Standards.
Perfectionists say they have “high standards.” It serves as the excuse to miss deadlines and to berate less than perfect results. The perfectionist is a bully. Of self, of others. Because that was the power example they learned early by coloring in the lines.

Blaming the deadline is a lack of discipline. The truth is more likely to be, “If I never finish it, others will never find the flaw, and I will never have to admit that my work (and I) are not perfect.”

The Reward of Completion.
Here is the big reward: when you get things done, even if they are not perfect,  you will first be overwhelmed with shame at how poor the work is. You will invent hundreds of excuses not to turn it in.

Do some deep breathing, put it away for an hour. Then, look at it right before you send it in. You will feel relieved. You will feel the rush of the imperfect. It is the acceptance that you worked hard and as well as you could with the talents you have today.  It will be the first step into being a recovering perfectionist.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps other people open the door to a new future without the burden. She has just completed a book on developing inner heroes that take on our inner critics.

Perfectionists: Take That Risk!

Every time you make a decision, you close the door to other choices. It’s a fact of life. If you are a perfectionist, this causes a problem. Did you make the best decision? If it is the best decision for now, how about tomorrow?

For those of us who are recovering perfectionists, I can cheerfully say, “Make a decision. Every one of them comes with a consequence. You can’t control your whole future. Risk!”

TucsonsunsetPerfectionists are excellent procrastinators. Putting off a decision means not making a wrong decision. Yes, that’s true, but it also means you are not moving forward. And not moving forward isn’t an act of perfection. The difference between a rut and a groove is the length of time you’ve spent there.

Here’s something I learned over the years: if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t taking enough of a creative risk. If you are doing everything right, you are doing the same thing over and over. That isn’t perfection, that’s the shortcut to insanity. Unless you are assembling a kit, perfection is not the goal.

Come on out in the open and try making a decision whose outcome isn’t practiced, isn’t certain. If you make a mistake, you’ve learned something. And learning something is a milestone to getting better. Perfection, on the other hand, is an impossible state that hates “better.” So it remains immobile.

Image: I took the photo without looking as I drove from Tucson to Phoenix. The phone slipped and I took the photo. A happy accident–I like it better than a planned photo.

Quinn McDonald is spending the weekend taking risks with her new book. The Inner Critic is frantic and her Inner Heroes are gathering.

Guestpost: Exploring Creality

TJ Goerlitz as an avatar, so youll recognize her on the internet.

Note from QuinnCreative:  TJ Goerlitz is a peripatetic American artist living in Germany. I ran across her blog, Studio Mailbox, by accident. Her wonderful talent in describing the fun and frustrations of living in another country and struggling with the culture and language has made coffee come out my nose more than once. Her experience of giving birth and being an American mother in Germany has made me smile in recognition of my own childhood. TJ and I have discussed creative topics, and she first used the term “creality” to describe. . .well, here, I’ll let her tell it.

*
Before I begin, please let me say that although creality is something I “made up” I’m convinced that it’s very real.   The hardest part of inventing stuff (besides the stereotypical bad hair) is deciding how to define the invention.  Is it a concept?  An affliction?  A tangible thing?

In my initial post on creality I tried to define it although I’m the first to admit it’s a bit rough.  And it focuses only on how I experience creality which tends to be in the negative sense.

The Germans use the term zwischenraum to literally mean “between space.”   In traditional printing, the little flat spacer that was used between the words in a line of type is also called a “zwischenraum.”

Creality is much like the literal German printer’s zwischenraum except it’s invisible.  Creality is the space that’s sitting between the idea you have in your head and the outcome of whatever you just made while attempting to manifest your idea.

Creality can be experienced in a negative or positive sense.  There are times when your created result exceeds your initial expectations and you might respond to it with terms such as; happy accident, the unfolding process, or better than imagined!

TJ Goerlitz © All rights reserved.

If you’re hardwired like myself however, you might be experiencing creality in a primarily negative sense.  We’re the ones responding to our creations with terms like; dissimilarity or variance.  Which also sometimes masquerades as “I’m so disappointed with this shit.” And in the event that the creality spacer for a particular project just happens to be huge, some might call it a mutation or in other circles an “epic frigging failure.”

For years, I thought two things could be the culprit for my episodes of my negative creality:  either my ideas were too idealistic or my skills were too remedial to achieve my desired result.  Both reasons put the blame on my own shoulders.

Yet over the years I started recognizing the same problem in every creative person I met! And I’m talking about all the creative fields:  actors, writers, cooks, painters.  The only difference being that we express it differently depending on our personalities and our perceptions.

The idea that started it all. TJ Goerlitz © All rights reserved.

All this might sound super nuts-o.  But I feel it would be helpful to other creatives to simply know about this phenomenon.  I’m willing to bet that very few things have ever been brought to completion exactly as imagined or planned.  And the power of knowing this ahead of time might just really help us not be so attached to the original idea in the first place.

Imagine if from the very beginning we could say to ourselves, “hey look.  I know exactly how I want 70 percent of this to turn out.  So let’s get that right and I’ll cut you some slack on the other 30.”  Wouldn’t that be the better way to start out instead of rigidly attempting to achieve something that isn’t going to hit 100 percent anyway?

*Insert fine print.*  Obviously the dialog above is probably not the best plan if you’re an architect or a heart surgeon.  Clearly we don’t want walls falling over or blood spurting out of our stitches when we sneeze.  What I’m talking about is journaling.  Quilting.  Self portraits.  Photography.  Wedding cakes.  Writing.  The kind of stuff where the consequences of creative liberties aren’t typically death.

Being aware of creality spacers can give you a whole new perspective.  For instance, have you ever taken on commission work where the client didn’t like the outcome despite the fact that you were sure that you created something to specification?  Although it’s possible that your interpretation of their request was way off or that your work in general is total crap, there’s also the possibility that you got yourself all messed up in their creality!  The point is, knowing about creality can help you stop blaming yourself for undesired outcomes.  And c’mon; who doesn’t appreciate something besides ourselves that can take the blame?

Here’s some more thoughts for you:

  • Negative creality is directly proportional to the degree in which you are attached to your original idea.
  • Creality can be especially painful for high achievers, and those who “set the bar high.”And sadly this has nothing to do with actual creative skill.  This has to do with a mentality that if you do not reach “the goal” then you have failed.
  • Creality doesn’t have to be painful or negative.  It can be a positive experience for those who can detach from their original ideas.
  • Creality spacers shrink in size and emotional significance at the same speed as which we forget the original concepts.
  • Thinking of your original idea as a catalyst instead of a rigid plan will help turn a potential negative creality experience into a positive one.

The only way I’ve been successful in handling my negative creality is to separate myself from the work.  And I specifically mean hiding whatever I just made in a spot where I know I won’t re-discover it for a few weeks.  I have never resurrected something and still been disappointed.  In fact, I’m normally really confused why I was so pissed off at it when I made it.

Distance is creality’s enemy!!

You can follow TJ on Facebook.
You can tour TJ’s studio in her blogpost. Hey, she cleaned up just for the post.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who has suffered from Creality and been delighted by its surprises. She’s delighted to have talked TJ into doing this guestpost. © Quinn McDonald, 2011. All rights reserved.

Perfectionists and Procrastination, Part II

Yesterday, in Part I of Perfectionists and Procrastination, you heard about Anne, who missed opportunities because her perfectionism never let her finish a project.

The Root of Perfection.
What causes perfectionism? Research shows that around the age of four, children begin to socialize with the culture they live in. In American culture that means playing in groups, not being too different, not showing above-average intelligence, and following rules. (Later this changes to not getting caught when breaking the rules.)

Trash can trash by bedzine.com/

Trash can trash by bedzine.com/

Around age four, children start spending most of their day in a school-like group environment where behaving according to the teacher’s norms is important—it yields approval.  Children learn to color in the “right” colors, stay inside the lines, sing in groups, write the “truth,” and memorize facts that will appear on standardized text.

Critical thinking is not encouraged. Creativity isn’t either. Both take time, and most schools spend a lot of time preparing the class to get better grades on standardized tests.

Misplaced Focus Leads to Misplaced Ideals.
As children manage the hard work of socialization, they are taught to focus on certain questions and their answers.  Art, music, and other creative studies are dropped. No standardized test worries about inventiveness, creativity or multiple right answers.

A Little is Good, a Lot is Worse.
Socialization isn’t bad, it’s just overdone. Our parents and teachers tell us to compete, win, get that good job, make lots of money, be “successful.” Peers goad with fear that we are not good enough, stupid, not applying ourselves or lazy. By the time we are in college our goals are to hurry up, win, compete, and stay in the top percentile of school and achievement.

Perfectionism is not all bad. In tiny doses, self-discipline is great, and even the desire to be perfect can be useful–doing careful research, doing original work instead of plagiarizing, being diligent–all are good. When being “perfect” gets out of hand it leads to serious life problems.

The key is separating discipline from  fear of failure. We live in a world stoked by our own negative self talk. “You can’t do this, you will not make it, you are scared. . .” goes the voice.  Suddenly discipline stops us from producing anything finished.

New Idea of Discipline.
Discipline is exactly the right word for what we do need to nourish. it is not the discipline of your youth. Here is how the new discipline works.

Neatly stacked manuscripts, wirelessdigest.typepad.com

Neatly stacked manuscripts, wirelessdigest.typepad.com

The idea stage of a creative project is the fun part,  the part where anything is possible.  But when we start the process portion of the project, we call, not on discipline, but on the gremlin of negative self-talk.

What we need is discipline enough to push through to the finish and get that wonderful feeling of completion, perhaps even accomplishment.

Gremlins of Negative Self  Talk.
Everyone has gremlins of negative self talk. We criticize ourselves harshly, in the words we remember from our parents, teachers, and peer bullies. This negative self talk collides head-on with the need to compete, to win, to succeed. And perfectionism is created.

Too much pressure and stress to achieve leads to symptoms or real illness. The deadline looms, and the perfectionists collapses.

The Trap of High Standards.
Perfectionists say they have “high standards.” It serves as the excuse to miss deadlines and to berate lesser efforts than there own. Yes, the perfectionist is a bully. Of self, of others. Because that was the power example they learned early.

Blaming the deadline is a lack of discipline. The truth is more likely to be, “If I never finish it, others will never find the flaw, and I will never have to admit that my work (and I) are not perfect.”

And making it perfect sounds virtuous, even wonderful. The perfectionist excuse fosters procrastination.

It says, “Oh, this part isn’t as good as that part.” It says, “Oh, this book needs too much work to be right.” It says, “I need to edit the draft one more time.” And when the work doesn’t get out there, we have the excuse of “still working on it. . .”

The Reward of Completion.
Here is the big reward: when you get things done, even if they are not perfect,  you will first be overwhelmed with shame at how poor the work is. You will invent hundreds of excuses not to turn it in.

Do some deep breathing, put it away for an hour or so. Then, look at it right before you send it in. You will discover that it is really good, and that it is done. When you submit it, you will be boosted up on a wonderful high. You will feel relieved. You will feel proud.  You deserve that wonderful rush. It is the rush of the imperfect. It is the acceptance that you worked hard and as well as you could with the talents you have today. And it will be the first step into meeting deadlines and doing well. It will be the first step into being a recovering perfectionist.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps other people open the door to a new future without the burden. See her work at QuinnCreative.

Perfectionists and Procrastination, Part I

Anne is a writer. She hit upon a great idea for an article. It would require a lot of interviews, but the idea was brilliant. She posted a segment of the work on her blog and was contacted in four hours by a publisher. Anne could turn the idea into several spin-offs, so there was a great future ahead.

If you are a perfectionist, you know the next part of the story. Anne missed the first deadline. And the next. And the project is still not complete.

Anne is a perfectionist, too. She does excellent work and doesn’t want to turn in anything less than the best.

Changing time won't change deadline

Changing time won't change deadline

If Anne follows the road of perfectionism most writers and artists (and office workers, moms, employees, and supervisors) take, she will start a dozen projects and finish none of them, because they are not “finished.” Or “quite right,” or “done editing.”

She will have another great idea, and start it, and never finish it, either. Over her lifetime, she will start a thousand projects, ideas, articles, books, blogs, and relationships. None of them will end satisfactorily; many of them will never be finished at all.

Perfectionism sounds like something everyone would aspire to, but in real life, it is a pitfall to satisfaction. Perfectionism is the enemy of “good.” Or even “great.”images-1

Don’t confuse “excellent” with “perfect.” Perfectionists are not satisfied with excellent, because there may be an  invisible flaw that someone will find. And expose the perfectionist as a fraud.

And being exposed as a fraud takes the identity from a perfectionist. And the power they hold over others. As long as they don’t hand in the project or complete the work, they hang onto their identity.

Perfectionists are driven by fear of inadequacy–and sooner or later, often sooner, they will fail. Perfectionists fear this failure so much, that they begin to control their lives, their work, their employees, their family and friends in an ever-widening circle of perfectionism. By judging other people severely,  perfectionists point to the flaws of others as a distraction from faults growing in their own lives.

They are never happy, always striving, forever hearing the threat of “fraud,” “unworthy” and “failure.”

Continue reading Part II of Perfectionism and Procrastination on Monday, Dec. 15. Discover a common cause of perfectionism and a new perspective.

-Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps others open the door to being great, if not perfect. See her work at QuinnCreative.com