“Is it good enough?” is the wrong question

Ask: “Does it need to be done?”

Almost any creative person I know has to deal with heavy doubts in their process. And to a certain extent this might be an unavoidable part of our artistic lives. But I might at least pull one painful thorn out of your side: The question of whether your project (yes, the one from which you are procrastinating right now!) is good enough or not.

Because it doesn’t matter.

First of all, you are probably not in a position to answer this question since you are too deeply involved. Of course you want to do the best you can but you can’t evaluate the quality in absolute terms right now. You are too close. Every project has phases where things feel stale and trivial. You have spent so much time with it, keeping things fresh isn’t always easy — if you know what I mean.

Secondly, you have to see things that are not there yet (my personal definition of creativity), and making a realistic assessment of the current status is neither your job nor will it help. Focus on what it could be like, not on what it is like right now! Keep your eyes on the road ahead!

For another thing, you can’t predict how the project is going to turn out. Any artistic project worth pursuing is a journey, not a package holiday. You can overthink and guess potential outcomes all you want, at some point you just have to get in there and see what happens! You cant’t anticipate what is going to happen, you don’t know what awaits you on the other side. That’s the beauty of it.

And then, quality results are not the only reason to work on something. Sure, if you make something good this will reward you with moments of joy and maybe others might shower you with love, money and admiration. But there are other factors which can motivate and justify to go through the ups and downs of a creative project: Some things need to be done. Which leads us to the question: Is your project one of those things?

It might have to be done so that you can progress to the next level. For instance when you try out something new you might at first have to go through a rough learning phase of awful results. When you explore a particular interest you might find out that you didn’t find anything worthwhile there —which you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t tried! Progress mostly happens in small steps — lots and lots of them. And your current project is one of them, no matter how good or bad the results will be, whether it fails or not. It is the next step.

But then there are those ventures of which you can’t tell why you are doing them but you feel the necessity deep down in your guts. Your mind might tell you they are silly but you feel you have to do it. Those are the best! You can’t leave that business unfinished, no matter what. You don’t need to understand the reason to do it right now. You just know that you have to do it!

So the next time one of those evil little voices in our heads asks us “Is this project good enough?”, let’s reply with a different question: “Does it need to be done?” And whatever your answer in that moment is, please make yourself a nice hot beverage and carry on!

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2 comments On “Is it good enough?” is the wrong question

  • I found this lesson very well done. I want to draw and paint. I asked myself “what do I want to draw and paint?” I watched an artist painting a landscape and I watched another artist paint animals. Looks good so I bought acrylic paint and canvas and brushes, then I thought should I be at the beginning? Maybe drawing or water colour? So I watched an artist doing abstract and asked what I should do and he said get a book and some drawing pencils and sketch, I asked,” sketch what? He said everything! I noticed then the artist with landscape painted what he saw and the abstract artist painted what he didn’t see, interesting! I need a foundation and today you gave me “Perspective”. Thank you! The circles and hash was good too!

  • Isn’t this the huge, unanswerable question–does it need to be done? For more than 5 years, I tried making pots and finally decided I wasn’t good enough to continue. I’ve drawn and painted for even more years and began to have the same question–is my work good enough to continue?

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