The dirty secret of creativity {and the doodles I don’t really want to show you}

The dirty secret of creativity {and the doodles I don’t really want to show you}

The dirty secret of creativity

Doodles I love.

I’ve mentioned before that for a long time I simply didn’t consider myself creative. While there’s no doubt that I’m pursuing creativity more often now, I still find myself fighting the urge to qualify my art by explaining that I’m not really an artist (for example, I wanted to put art in quotes so badly just so no one thinks I take myself too seriously).

As I’ve been thinking about my new approach to creativity and what it means to really pursue a craft and call myself creative, I’ve realized that I’ve probably always been creative—and, honestly, I think creativity is part of everyone’s soul—but perfectionism led me to bury that part of myself.

Because here’s the thing: Making good art requires a whole lot of messiness in the process. Sure, there are probably a prodigies or savants who can pick up a pencil or paint brush or instrument and create something truly beautiful without any effort. But for the rest of us, it takes work. It takes experimenting and trying new things. It takes messing up and figuring out what doesn’t look or sound good and what the difference is between the things that resonate in your soul and those that don’t. It takes pushing the limits to try new things, discover your style, and stretch your skills.

The dirty secret of creativity The dirty secret of creativity The dirty secret of creativity

Doodles gone bad.

For those of us who are perfectionists, art is a painful process. While I’ve been writing publicly for years, I write most of my words on the computer, which means I can easily backspace, delete and edit. I can clean things up and no one will ever see the earlier drafts. Drawing on paper is a  different beast altogether. There’s a very real chance that someone will glance over my shoulder as I doodle and see a doodle that just can’t be cleaned up and made pretty. And even if they don’t see it in process, it’s in my notebook or book, as a permanent record of those “failures.” When I venture into hand-lettering, where it’s even harder to edit and add and change what’s already been drawn than it is with doodling, it gets even more painful.

I’ve learned to use a pencil this month, not because I’m giving into fear but because it does help to sketch something out, play with proportions and lines before tracing it permanently in ink. But I’m also learning to accept that not every letter or doodle I attempt will be “portfolio” worthy. And that is okay. It’s like falling while you ski; it’s not fun, but it means you’re trying new things and pushing yourself. Which means it’s not just okay but actually a good thing.

No one wants to put their mistakes out there for others to see, and art is so intensely personal that it makes doing that even harder. But accepting the process is an important part of being able to really grow!

Do you consider yourself creative? An artist? Is the messiness of learning new things easy or hard for you to accept?

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I just have to say that what you consider “messy” or “bad” would be the greatest thing I ever drew or doodled or whatever. I am the person who can’t color in the lines even though I’m almost 30 and can’t cut a straight line while using a paper cutter. Your artistic ability far outstrips mine and, I imagine, many others. So never, ever think what you are doing isn’t beautiful and lovely because there are those of us who can’t even draw stick people who would love to be able to doodle in ANY capacity.

    I consider myself creative in that I can think outside the box and come up with creative solutions for things. I think of my cooking, baking, and writing fiction as my art and creative outlets. And coming up with funny things to say on Twitter. Because that’s CLEARLY an art. 😉

    1. Thanks so much, Elizabeth—although I would have described myself just as you did 6 months ago, so I think you might be surprised at how forgiving doodling is for the “unartistic” among us (myself included!). 🙂

  2. Mandi, thank you! I struggle with perfectionism, art, and creativity; you’ve encouraged me!

    1. I’m so glad, Lynne—I’ve got this hairbrained idea to see if I can doodle some diagrams to blend the two halves of my mind/personality, so we’ll see what comes of that!

  3. The minute I saw your drawings my mind immediately went to the difference between drawing and writing. The delete button and ability to edit to completion are HUGE differences, especially for the idea of avoiding vulnerability of a less-than-stellar outcome.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Jess! I actually hadn’t realized that difference until I was in the middle of writing the post, but it was a huge lightbulb moment for me!

  4. This post really hit home for me. I too struggle with perfectionism; if my project doesn’t turn out exactly how my mind’s eye saw it, I am discouraged. I am paralyzed by something not being perfect.

    1. Have you ever forced yourself to share something even when it wasn’t “perfect”? I’m finding that to be really freeing, which allows me to practice and improve more without fear!

  5. Sometimes I am even at a holt before I start due to fear of failure or fear of my project not turning out just the way I want, it’s something I’m working on too. Practice makes perfect, I just have to make sure I don’t practice so much the project never gets completed.

    1. Blast, halt not holt.

    2. Yep, I know exactly what you mean. I think we have to force ourselves to just start!

  6. Nice reminder. Its good to get into “flow” where there is no judgement. Just losing oneself in the creating…

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