It’s all very well saying ‘just have a go’ but how do you combat doubts about your work? The trick is to recognise where you are on the creative curve.
Is It Any Good?
We’ve spoken quite a lot about the need for expressive freedom. We’ve established that sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and just do something. And we’ve discussed how the process (rather than the end product) is the reward. But, in the end, we all want to create something of value.
So, how do you overcome doubts about whether what you are doing is any good? Even if you agree it doesn’t matter what other people think, if you have misgivings of your own, this can be unsettling. And if that undermines the enjoyment of your creative activity, then it is clearly something that needs to be addressed.
Well, to begin with, you may be reassured to know that even the most successful artists tend to have these feelings. In fact, those of whom there is the greatest expectation can suffer the most. There is a recognised condition known as ‘impostor syndrome’, which is essentially the sensation of ‘getting away with something’ whilst feeling unqualified to do it.
For the rest of us, the stakes are somewhat lower. We really only need to please ourselves and, perhaps, our peers, parents, teachers, etc. However, that doesn’t necessarily make things any easier.
Seeing The Creative Curve
To combat this discomfort, we need to understand that our misgivings are part of the process. There is a distinct curve to the creative act that, if we can recognise it, we can use to manage our expectations. In the same way that we need to be aware when it’s time to take a break, we must also allow for the emotional highs and lows of the creative journey.
A colleague was recently reviewing some emails I’d sent her. She is somebody I routinely send my blog-posts to before publishing. She will proof-read and critique them prior to their being sent out into the world.
In one such email, I had written ‘I’m not sure if this one is any good’. She responded that it was actually really good and had something useful to say. I then explained I’d reached the point in the creative curve at which I’d lost faith in what I was trying to say. Which gave me the idea for today’s blog.
You may have heard the quote – apparently said by the inventor Thomas Edison – that ‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’. Now, nobody is claiming any kind of genius here but the sentiment rings true for creative work. Generally, there is some kind of inspirational spark that leads to the compulsion to create. And, to realise this creation, a good deal of hard work then follows.
But that is not the whole picture. As I wrote to my collaborator, there are more layers to this process. Namely: the initial excitement of having an idea; the enjoyment of bringing that to life (through writing, moving, composing, painting, sculpting, etc.); the drudgery of refining and editing the creation; and, finally, loss of faith in the whole thing.
Now, this may sound rather harsh, cynical even. But it will be familiar to anyone who creates on a regular basis. For me, personally, the loss of belief usually coincides with the point at which my work needs to be presented to an audience – or made available for scrutiny by peers and colleagues.
And this is where the relevance to our work in education comes in. Put yourself in the shoes of a young pupil. They have been really excited by an idea they had for a picture/dance/story/song. They then lost themselves in the enjoyment of making this thing of their own inventing. And they have worked hard to refine and improve their creation.
But then comes the point at which they have to present their work. This may be: to you, as the teacher; to their friends, whose opinions matter deeply; or to the whole class, which has the ability to make them feel like a hero or a failure. When we look at it from the child’s perspective, it’s pretty daunting. Just at the point at which they feel least confident, they must make themselves most vulnerable.
If we are able to recognise our own frailties in such a situation, we can better empathise with our pupils, faced with this crisis of confidence. But it need not be a crisis at all. If they are made aware that everyone feels this way sometimes – and that it’s OK to be unsure – we can help them confront their fears.
As with so many aspects of creativity, this is an important, broader learning experience. One that can help with personal growth and confidence later in life. Confronting fears at an early age can help to strengthen the resolve of those children when they reach adulthood.
Carry On Regardless
And, for those of us that have already become adult, it is useful to remind ourselves that we can’t always be super-confident. But we can learn to carry on regardless. Generally, the best solution is simply to remind yourself you have done your best.
Whereas, in this moment, you may have lost confidence in what you have created, there is every chance that when you come back to it later, you will see it’s true worth. Or – better still – somebody else will say ‘that thing you did was really good’. Just remember, it’s all part of the process.
Now, let’s see: I’m not sure if what I just wrote is any good…