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Perfection vs. Art

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:

Tardis Painting

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.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 6th, 2014 01:45 pm (UTC)
Also, sometimes the mistakes end up being even cooler than what you intended to do. :)
Oct. 6th, 2014 01:52 pm (UTC)
True :-)
Oct. 6th, 2014 03:44 pm (UTC)
I love Painting with a Twist and the other art and wine classes that are growing so popular. I have actually painted this one myself. It was so much fun and I loved the result so much that I'm thinking of doing it again so I can gift one to a friend. Yours looks much nicer than mine, or at least cleaner. Art is subjective after all. I hope you had a great time!
Oct. 6th, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
You could turn that into a Nano prep talk. Not so long until November. :-)
Oct. 6th, 2014 06:01 pm (UTC)
I'm already signed up for one NaNo talk. I'll keep that in mind :-)
Oct. 6th, 2014 05:28 pm (UTC)
I like your picture (and happy anniversary). A good con talk too, if there are authors there.
Oct. 6th, 2014 05:55 pm (UTC)
The artwork came out well!

One of the things I've learned via my attempts at writing fanfic is "just get the basics down first, you can flesh it out later". My first drafts tend to be extremely skeletal, but as I read back thru them in the course of getting ready to write the next scene, ideas for expansion come into my head and can be added. Or I figure out how to fix that one sentence that was annoying the shit out of me because it didn't quite say what I wanted. Trying to maneuver it all around in my head so that it's perfect when I type it out just doesn't work well for me.
Oct. 6th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
That's pretty similar to my own process. My first drafts tend to be about 50% of the length of the final book.
Oct. 6th, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
For me it's the other way round; I tend to write too much fluff (explanations that interrupt the flow and stuff) I need to edit out. And my scenes maeander.
Oct. 6th, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
Dr. Van Gogh? Hee - I do like this a lot (and the first instruction is really important, really hard, and is very close to what I repeat to myself often, 'the enemy of a good pot is a better pot'). I think the idea of Painting with a Twist is awesome (our local Art Institute has Hot Date Night... raku, glass, metalsmithing) - the joy in the creation as something to share.
Oct. 6th, 2014 06:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's almost gothic, lighted tower in a crazy storm. I like it.

It's interesting to me that you say that the time limit helped with your perfectionist tendencies. I used to polish each paragraph before I could bear to go on to the next, but when inspiration failed me in the middle of my second novel, I started telling myself I only had to write for an hour -- which was often all I had anyway, given my day job of the time. Although the time limit was meant to reassure myself that I wasn't stuck forever, it really wasn't a big deal at all to be writing for an hour, paradoxically, the knowledge that I had just an hour made me feel very silly if all I had at the end of it was one shiny paragraph, so I'd rush heedlessly in and write pages, which were perfectly fine once revised later.

It's funny the tricks our minds play on us, or vice versa.

Oct. 7th, 2014 05:13 pm (UTC)
Heh. I'm still doing the one-hour at the day job thing, though I try to squeeze in a little extra time in evenings and weekends.

It's weird to see how many mind games we play with ourselves. Whether it's the tricks we figure out to get ourselves to write, or the way we manage all of the fear and ego that go into the stories, or surviving the unpredictability of the whole darn profession. I've said many times that it was a good thing I married a counselor :-)
Oct. 6th, 2014 10:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the reminder - I needed it today.

I love the painting! For some reason it makes me think of The Muppets. And now I've just spent the past few minute imagining Kermit, or maybe Elmo, as the Doctor's Companions...
Oct. 7th, 2014 01:02 am (UTC)
Oct. 7th, 2014 03:49 am (UTC)
Oct. 7th, 2014 03:53 am (UTC)
I think your painting looks great! And the lesson about not needing to be perfect is a good one to know, and one I far too often forget - thanks for reminding me of it.
Oct. 7th, 2014 10:12 am (UTC)
This is a reminder I sorely needed. Thank you.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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