First Do It Badly
Lots of people are afraid to start something on the grounds they won’t be any good. I’m that way. We’re usually right about it too, but the problem is that if you don’t start you won’t get any better. There’s a quote attributed to Carl Jung (I couldn’t find the source), “The fool is the precursor to the savior.” If you’re not willing to be bad, you’ll never be great.
You have to be willing to fail until you succeed. That’s all that practice really is. I’m taking piano lessons right now, and when I’m learning a new piece, it can be excruciating. Before I can play the song well, I have to sit there for hours and play it terribly. I fumble over rhythms, hit the wrong notes, forget to take my foot off the pedal, and lose my place in the music. That’s after practicing both hands separately. I trip, stumble, and fail my way through. And then I do it again, but this time it’s a tiny bit better. I continue that process 20 or 30 times, and eventually, I can play it.
When talking to students hesitant to begin writing, Jordan Peterson tells them to “Write a really bad first draft.” That gives them something to edit. Once it’s out in the world, the problems are no longer theoretical. They learn exactly what they are, and that makes them easier to fix. Keeping ideas inside and worrying about them is death. I’ve wasted a ton of time worrying about how I’m going to write songs, rather than just writing songs. Once I’m doing the work, my objectives are clear.
I’m trying to have a healthier relationship with failure; by all accounts the arts involve a lot of rejection. My teachers have been recently pushing the importance of content creation, even if it’s bad. That’s harder than it sounds. You think it’d be easy to just write something and not care too much, but it takes practice. The issue is that once you have an inkling of interest in what you’re doing, it becomes a little bit precious, and that impedes the finishing process. At any given time, I have two or three ideas that I really like, that I want to flesh out and perfect. I’ll start a new song from scratch, a project with less at stake, but pretty soon that becomes precious, too.
Allowing ourselves the practice we need will help. That’s why I’m learning to create on a schedule. I’ve been been trying to release a video every week. My first video took me the longest. I had to decide where best to shoot it, how to get the lighting right, where to place my mic, and how to edit the video and audio together. It’s been getting easier and faster every time. It’s helped me realize how I look while performing, which isn’t something I normally think about.
Adventure Time’s Jake the Dog, puts it like this, “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” Getting over the initial cringe of sucking is paramount, because it comes up again and again. Every new piece of music, technique, or exercise, if it’s helpful, will have growing pains. I remember taking guitar lessons at McNally Smith and my teacher gave me a difficult exercise saying, “This is going to make you feel like you can’t play guitar.” Eventually I want to get into making more elaborate videos; I can tell you right now that my first few aren’t going to be great, but they will give me an education I can’t get anywhere else. Don’t be afraid to suck!
Peterson, Jordan B. “YouTube.” Biblical Series IX: The Call to Abraham, 2017, 58:30, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmuzUZTJ0GA.
“His Hero.” Adventure Time, season 1. Written and story boarded by Adam Muto, Kent Osborne & Niki Yang. Directed by Larry Leichliter and Patrick McHale. Cartoon Network, 2010.