If the previous step (Impulse) was primarily about trust, this one is about courage. Specifically, the courage to make mistakes… As I’ve previously pointed out, I don’t really believe in fearlessness in the sense of abolishing fear, and I think it has an important role to play in creative flow; I do, however, believe there are ways to diminish its power over us, to transcend it as it were, and this chapter is about a method – well, no, more like an attitude – that seems to help with that.
I’ll begin by echoing a bit of advice that ‘floats around’ out there a fair bit these days: mistakes are good, mistakes are how we learn and grow. Be prepared to make some mistakes along your journey, because if you’re afraid to make mistakes you’ll be afraid to try new things, and you’ll never get anywhere. Also, you’re going to make lots of them anyway, no matter how much you try not to, so you may as well make peace with it.
It’s good advice, as far as it goes… but in fact, we are going to take it one step further: we’re going to deliberately set out to make mistakes. We are going to turn the making of mistakes into a new creative mantra: Dare to Suck.
Truth or Dare
Once we’ve gotten Clear and Listened and felt the Impulse to begin, it’s time to take off. But it’s also, all too often, time for fear to start kicking in. So how are we going to do this? We’re going to try to short-circuit that fear, by deliberately setting out to try to make something that might very well suck.
Now I’ve seen this positioned in a few different ways, most often using the alternate term ‘permission’, i.e. ‘permission to suck’. I personally prefer the word ‘dare’ over ‘permission’ because there’s a little bit of attitude in it, a bit of danger and adventure – we don’t have permission because we don’t need permission. We don’t want permission. We dare.
Before you protest (I don’t want to suck! I want to do Great Work and be rich and famous, with the respect of my peers and legions of admiring fans!), hear me out. There’s method in my madness, and a perhaps a touch of the right kind of madness in my method. Bear with me.
How Stuck is your Parachute?
‘Dare to Suck’ is a psychological tool, a reset key for the fear of failure. It can be taken as far as you need to, depending on the extremity of your stuck-ness. If you’re only mildly stuck – as in, you’ve got an idea or two that you think might be worth exploring but you’re afraid you won’t be able to do justice to them – then ‘Dare To Suck’ says: Just start something. If it doesn’t turn out well you don’t have to show it to anyone. Tell yourself you’re just going through the motions once to get the blood flowing, this is not serious. You can even rip it up (hit the delete key, whatever) if it really sucks. In fact, you can tell yourself you’re planning to. But maybe hold off a bit before you follow through… for reasons which I’ll get into below.
If you’re more stuck than that, if you have no ideas that even remotely interest you, or you do but you seriously cannot bring yourself to start them for fear of wrecking them by trying and failing, then we need to get a bit more extreme. In this case you need to do more than transcend fear; you need to deliberately try to make something that sucks. You are NOT trying to create something good, you are TRYING to suck. You WANT to suck. The trick is to tell yourself that with a goal like that, it’s virtually impossible to fail!
Wait a minute, what would failing to suck look like anyway? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? This means you can’t lose – either it sucks, because you were trying to, in which case you succeeded; or it doesn’t, because you failed, and it’s great, or at least interesting and potentially, with a little more work, even good. Congratulations either way!
Truth, dare, double-dare, promise to repeat…
In very rare cases you may be so stuck that you can’t even bring yourself to risk failure at sucking. In which case, we need to change our focus from the Sucking to the Dare: I PERSONALLY DARE YOU TO DO SOMETHING THAT SUCKS. Go on. I don’t think you’re up to it. Prove it to me. Did you ever play Truth or Dare? You can’t ignore a direct personal dare. It’s a challenge to your honour. It’s extreme, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I want to see some suckage! Bring it on!
Regardless of how far we need to take it, the objective is the same: rather than deciding you’re going to try to create something Great and Important, thus engaging your fear of failure, set out to do something bad. Really sincerely make that your goal, and see what happens. I figure you can’t be afraid of bad work if you’re deliberately setting out to do it!
However, I’m willing to bet that as often as not, if you’ve got a creative bone in your body (hint: you do), it won’t play out that way. You’ll fail to fail. Your bad won’t be bad enough, your suck won’t suck enough. You’ll look at it after a while and say, wait a minute, that’s actually kind of cool… I wonder what would happen if I just tried it like this instead…
You see, The trick about creativity is that it’s really not all about us. In fact it’s hardly about us at all. We have to show up and put in the hours and actually do something, yes, but whether things pop in a creative way depends mostly on getting ourselves and our psychology out of the way. If you show up and get started, and don’t immediately start to enact your self-doubt and pick apart the first sentence (or brushstroke, or melody, or movement or whatever) – if you get that stuff out of the way and just keep doing it, mistakes and suckage be damned, then the chances are pretty good that you’re going to stumble across something that seems interesting after all.
Give your inner critic the rest of the day off
So focus on that, move towards it, get into it, explore it further. Don’t think about whether it’s the best most brilliant thing you’ve ever come up with – it doesn’t matter, we’re trying to suck, remember? – just see what it is and where it wants to go. Does it suck after all? Fine, that was the idea anyway. Does it… ahem… Not Suck? Then maybe you’re onto something. And guess what? You’re already in the middle of it. It’s too late to be afraid to start! You may as well just carry on.
And if this thought makes you instantly freeze up (Hang on, this is a good idea after all, oh no! Now I’m going to screw it up like I always do!) then just return to the first step and deliberately try to screw it up. See what happens. I’ll wait. Seriously, deliberately failing is at least better than doing nothing at all – because there’s always the possibility you’ll accidentally get it wrong. Or right. Wait, which one is which? Ah, but that’s precisely the trick. Once you get involved with an idea, it doesn’t matter anymore.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. It’s actually very hard to honestly try to suck. It’s especially tricky not to have it in the back of your mind that although you’re pretending to try to suck, what you’re really trying to get at is that ‘accidental’ good idea – and when you’re looking for those they are notoriously hard to find. However, it gets easier with practice, and it can actually be refreshing and fun creating purposely ‘bad’ art – or whatever it is you create – whether it works out that way or not…
What’s your take? Does this make sense to you? Have you had creative experiences that confirm or contradict these musings? Please leave a comment in the Discussion section below, and start or join the conversation!
continue with FASCINATION…
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