I feel scattered in my creative interests and actions. I create this and that, pull on this creative thread and then pull that one, and follow where they go. 

I am drawn to a lot of ideas and ways of visually expressing them. So my interests spread, and my skills with them. But sometimes my ideas outpace my skills, and my knowledge of tools and techniques.

Cairn (No. 6) by Adam Williams | HumanitouAlong the way, in trying to figure out where I “should” be and how I’m “supposed” to get there, I often wonder, “Are my varied interests, ideas and skills (or lack) good/bad? … Is my exploration right/wrong? … Do I have to settle on one way of creating to be taken seriously/noticed/valued?” … When will I figure it out?”

And that’s not helpful language. It’s falsely limiting. It also acts like there is a magical answer, one we often assume many others already know. It sucks the joy and inherent light out of being a creator, if I take myself so seriously from the get-go that I don’t allow room to just create, feel good and grow over time.

And then I am reminded of something like Ira Glass’ take on the process of developing craft, of crossing the chasm from “trying to figure it out” to “I think I’m getting it,” the gap between having a sense of where we want our creativity to go (“having good taste”) and doing good work that is worthy of others’ attention.

Most recently I ran into this Ira Glass sentiment on Jason Kottke’s blog. (Actually, Becca ran me into this Ira Glass sentiment when she sent me the link to the post.)

Before that, the same Ira Glass quote came up in my conversation with illustrator and author Lisa Congdon on the Humanitou Podcast

Here’s a snippet from Ira:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

I’m not just starting out, and yet it feels like I am. For many years, I focused on falling short. I’d want to know the whole road to success before I started. And if I started and sucked in my effort, I’d quit in shame and self-loathing. For many years. And then, in my 40s, I created something — Humanitou — and, finally, I kept going. Sometimes to my surprise.

Humanitou changed, evolved, grown, shifted. And I have with it. And I’ve managed, for once, to see it as all part of the process, that it was — and is — necessary to allow room for that experimenting, learning, evolving. 

That it’s all good, part of the path of success, rather than a series of failures and embarrassments. And so I feel like I am in a years-long emergence with Humanitou, one that might be indefinite. Will I ever actually emerge from the cocoon?

"Blue Eyes 4" by Adam Williams | Humanitou

I often think, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” I think I’m not like Lisa; I don’t feel confidently equipped to write book after book that help many thousands (or more) creators know how to find their artistic voice or build a career as an artist. 

But sometimes I circle back to this calming recognition: Yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing, but really neither does anyone else. Until they sort of do. And to get to that point, we have to keep going (read Austin Kleon).

We have to put in the volume of consistent work — I admire prolific creators — and pay attention to what emerges. I’m doing that now in the most consistent, committed way I ever have, with what I can actually call creative practices for my first time. 

To see the benefits that are inherent in just doing the work and walking the path one step at a time, and allowing the insights and skills to accrue over time, seems so obvious that I almost am embarrassed I didn’t trust in it sooner.

I still have doubts and questions, but see value in the process, enough to trust.

Maybe I’ll narrow my focus and aesthetics as I go. Maybe not. All the work I’m doing has its place and value. Like I said, I have a lot of interests. And I’m tired of overthinking them. I’ve lost years — decades — parsing and trying to define them to meet others’ expectations. Or more fairly, my perceptions and speculations about their (the proverbial they) expectations. My bad.

It’s time for much less thinking, and more and more action.


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