I’m a resolution maker. I find the new year a good time to reboot and refocus my attention, which has inevitably gotten away from me by December. This year, one of my main resolutions was to tie up loose ends on the myriad projects I’d started but never finished. But, here we are, mere weeks from 2009 and most of those same projects are still sitting there, incomplete. Sure, they’re a little further along than 11 months ago, but they’re not done. They’re not out there, being consumed.
It’s not like I’ve been lazy. In fact, I’d say that the 2+ years since Rasine was born have been the busiest of my life. I can’t remember the last time I lamented being bored and having nothing to do. But the post-kid time crunch can only be used as an excuse for so long.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to criticism. Sometimes this fear shows itself as an attempt at self-deprecating humor in an effort to deflect criticism before it’sever lobbed my way. More often, though, that fear keeps me from putting out something imperfect, which means I don’t put anything out there for people to see.
It happens in small ways, it happens in big ways. It might be a post or a song that I’ve finished but haven’t posted or released because it just doesn’t feel like it’s quite there yet. It sits there and eventually becomes too outdated to even consider publishing. Or, it could be something larger, like a web site redesign that sits at 80% finished for 18 months. I’m pretty sure this sort of thinking caused me to subconsciously self-sabotage the book I was working on for a couple of years.
I know I’m not alone in this. Merlin Mann discussed this in his great “Photography, and the Tolerance for Courageous Sucking” post:
Nobody likes feeling like a noob, especially when you’re getting constant pressure on all sides to never stick out in an unflattering way. And, in this godforsaken just-add-Wikipedia era of make-believe insight and instant expertise, it’s natural to start believing you must never suck at anything or admit to knowing less than everything — even when you’re just starting out. Clarinets should never squawk, sketch lines should never be visible, and dictionaries are just big, dumb books of words for cheaters and fancy people. Right?
I think finding your own comfort with the process (whatever that process ends up being) might just be the whole game here — being willing to put in your time, learn the craft, and never lose the courageousness to be caught in the middle of making something you care about, even when it might be shit and you might look like an idiot fumbling to make it. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Well, you could quit, because it’s too hard to make stuff you aren’t already great at. You could convert all that pointless effort and practice back into MySpace updates and the production of funny cat pictures. No, it’s not technically the worst thing that could happen, but it’s a damned common pathway for fear to molder back into an emotional impulse to put on jammies and watch Judge Judy.
Jay Smooth also discussed it over at Ill Doctrine in a video series about his “Little Hater.” He describes the “Little Hater” as such:
If I go too long without putting work in and it feels like that connection is broken, there’s a little voice inside my head that starts playing tricks on me and trying to convince me that the connection was never really there.
And I think this is true for all creative people, that we each have a “Little Hater” that lives inside our heads and tries to set up traps for us. And the first trap he sets up for me is always perfectionism.
Whenever I go a few days without making a video, I start thinking to myself, “I need do something extra special to justify that time away.” And then the Little Hater starts telling me that none of my ideas are good enough to meet that standard. Then, I don’t want to work and I fall into the second trap, which is procrastination.
Procrastination is what they call it when you confuse being busy with being productive. And that’s a trap that’s really hard to avoid when the work that you’re doing involves the Internet.
So then I’m feeling really stupid and guilty for letting myself fall into these traps and I tell myself I’ve gotta make this stop. But since I’m feeling like a loser who never gets anything done, I can’t build up the confidence…
I’m not expecting to get back to the levels of creative productivity that I had in high school where I was releasing 1-2 albums a year. Or college and “the Falls Church years” where I was churning out web sites and content like a madman. I’d be perfectly happy with just having something new to show every month or two, whether it’s a song, a few decent-length essays, or maybe even something in a completely different medium.
So, one of my resolutions for 2009 is to Get Over the F’ing Fear and Just Make Stuff. And I’m getting started on that resolution a month early.
My goals for the next two months are, as follows:
- December: Re-launch two web sites that have been “just about ready” for a year or more. Deal with any incompleteness later, post-launch.
- December: Get at least three book reviews and two other substantial posts written for The Veg Blog.
- December: Write a massive music “Year in Review” post like I did last year.
- January: Release a follow-up to the “Conspicuous Absence” mix CD I did in 2004. I’ve got the track list 95% done, have started soliciting drops from the artists represented, and started talks with Corey about design.
- January: Re-launch one more site that’s about 65% to where I want it to be now.
The stuff may be—no, will be—imperfect. And that’s going to be OK with me. Make it, move on. Get the momentum going, develop a rhythm, and be productive, not just busy.
I just need one promise from you: give me feedback along the way. Even if it’s critical. Because I can take it. I need to.