On Saturday, I took my wife out to Painting with a Twist as part of our anniversary celebration. They offer 2-hour and 3-hour sessions where the group all paints a 2′ x 3′ canvas with a particular picture. I signed us up for what was called “Blue Phone Booth” (presumably so they didn’t get into copyright or trademark trouble).
I was nervous going in, mostly because I haven’t tried to paint anything remotely artistic for about 25 years, since art class in 9th grade or so. And I wasn’t terribly good at it back then, either. But I’m rather pleased with Saturday’s results:
They had penciled in the rough outline of the TARDIS, but everything else was verbal instructions and guidelines from a woman at the front of the room. And one of the very first instructions was to relax and not worry about making it perfect.
It’s a lesson that took me a long time to learn with writing, and I was amazed at how it’s carried over into other areas of life. With writing, it’s so easy to get caught up trying to make each paragraph perfect. I remember struggling to write Goblin Hero, and never being able to get through the first draft because it wasn’t right, and I knew it wasn’t right, and I couldn’t let myself write the next part until I fixed it.
With the painting, the two-hour time limit helped a bit. I wish she’d slowed down a little in the second hour, but on the other hand, I didn’t have much time to obsess over imperfection. (And the few times I did, trying to fix my mistakes generally just made them look worse.)
She said something else that stuck with me. As she was reminding us to not worry about making it look perfect, she added that getting all of the lines and colors and such “perfect” would actually make the end result look weird and wrong.
I’ve said for years — ever since I figured out how to write Goblin Hero — that it’s important to give yourself permission to write crap. Perfection is the destroyer of art. It’s paralyzing. Art, whether it’s writing or painting or anything else, requires risk. And risk means you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes you’re going to fail.
Consider this your periodic reminder that it’s okay to fail. You have permission to write crap, to make mistakes in your art and to laugh them off, because those mistakes are a vital part of the process. And because when you keep working through the mistakes, you might just end up creating something amazing.