Why do we want our work to be perfect?

How is this quest for perfection working out for us?

Why do we expect our work to be good, particularly if we are new to our craft?

Perfection can stop you creating, make you throw your work in the trash and tells you that you will never be good enough


Perfection can be crippling

Elizabeth Gilbert says that perfectionism is just fear in high heels. If the drive for perfection is preventing you from creating or finishing your work then it is a form of resistance.

There is nothing wrong with aiming for the best that you can do. The late Victoria Wood, a British comic and writer, was known for constantly re-writing scenes throughout rehearsals and when filming was occurring. This is not resistance as her work was consistently released to an audience. Her drive for constant improvement did not stop her producing.

The problem occurs when either you won’t deign yourself to be involved in anything less than perfect or when you get stuck in an ever decreasing loop of changes.

Demanding perfection means that you are focussing on the outer reaction, from yourself and others. Creativity has to be about the inner process of the work to be truly satisfying.


How can you escape the curse of perfection and keep creating?


Be prepared to make crap art

You have to be prepared to make crap art and to accept that some days it will come out pleasing and other days it won’t. This frees you up to do something towards your project on a regular basis which will add up over time to something whole.

You won’t reach the giddy heights of good, or masterpiece or best seller if you don’t do the work. A large part of the results might be flawed but if you can accept the imperfection then you can experiment, learn and gradually get better.

If you have worked hard on something and it turns out bad try to get something positive from it. Learn from it. Could it lead somewhere better in the future?

Sometimes when I am writing I spend days spewing out banal crap. Then all of a sudden I hit upon a good idea or one of the characters in my novel comes out with something that is magic. If I hadn’t of kept wading through the crap then I wouldn’t have suddenly hit the good stuff. It is like mining. You have to chip away at a lot of boring, tedious rock to hit the seam of gold. There are no guarantees that you will discover that gold, but you are guaranteed not to find it if you do nothing.

For more on this topic, check out this blog: Why you should aim to make lots of crap art


Accept that people will judge your work

People are going to judge your work whether it’s crap or whether it is the best thing you have ever produced. Some people will love it, others will criticise it.

Once you have done the work to make the piece, everything else is out of your control. You can only be true to yourself by keeping creating and expressing the next thing you have to say.


Be kind to yourself

Re-read the title to this blog. It says why do we demand perfection from ourselves. To demand is hardly a kind way to treat ourselves.  If we were kinder to ourselves do you think we might achieve more? And might it be easier?

How can you take pressure off yourself? For example you might need to give yourself more time before putting some art work in a show.  Creativity goes at its own pace. It has to flow its own way. You can’t demand anything from it.


Get more skills

Making art whether you are a writer, a musician, a painter, an actor or a dressmaker requires skill. You have to learn techniques. You have to practise them. You need a good teacher. You need peers and support along the way.

You have to master the basics before you can get carried away with the advanced knowledge. This will sometimes be a messy and frustrating process. It will take longer than you want it to take and you will have some embarrassing disappointments. This is normal.

What do you need to learn now that will help your work get better? How can you go about practising these skills? Do you need to take a class? Get a teacher? Read more books?


Look back at how far you have come

We tend to focus on the road ahead and all the pitfalls it may contain. If you are having a hard time now then it is difficult to see beyond it.

However, over the last few months or years, you have already improved your skills and overcome previous setbacks. Look back and see how far you have come.

When you have been round the loop a few times you will learn that a bad cycle, where everything feels wrong or hard, will eventually turn into a good cycle, where everything flows and feels right. The trick is to keep going in the bad times otherwise you won’t reach the good ones.


To be creative is to speak your truth. No one can judge your truth, not even you. Just bring it into being. This is your job as an artist.


Over to you

Now I’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment. Is perfection your friend or foe?


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