“But I can never right my wrongs unless I write it down for real.”
–Kendrick Lamaar, “Poetic Justice”
That perfect vision you have in your head? It’s not perfect. It’s filled with thousands of little imperfections that you can’t even see with you’re mind’s eye. You’re taking what you think is perfection and trying to make reality conform to it. Every time reality doesn’t fit your model, you want to start over, or do some more tweaks. You have to rub out that slight blemish before you go on…
Sound familiar? When you try to go from reality to perfect in 1 or 2 steps, you often end up lost in the woods. Let’s forget that perfect isn’t even attainable, really; you’re going to have a hard time because the mind that creates is not the mind that fixes. Your vision of your project, whatever it is, is being held and fashioned by the mind that creates. When you try to make that mind fix stuff, it’s going to fix stuff generally by creating stuff on top of it, or changing things. It can’t see what needs to be taken out or rejected; the mind that creates cannot see easily what is stiff-sounding or hollow. The mind that creates spins and weaves, blossoms and dances. It is not surgical; do not give it knives.
Instead, acknowledge that whatever your creative mind is weaving is probably wrong. But also acknowledge that you can’t fix the wrong until something exists. Don’t start in perfection, start in a place where something has gone wrong in your creative utopia. To fix it, you have to write it down so you can really look at it. You can’t even really ask for help until you make it real. Yes it will be flawed, but it will be real. And real things can be fixed. You can’t “fix” imagination. You can only fix what imagination allows you to create.
Imagine hugging someone you care about. Feels good, doesn’t it? Now go and actually hug them (I’ll wait). Which would you rather have? It’s easy to give over to the allure of endless weaving that our mind can offer, but the truth is that nothing beats reality.
Reality is the place where you can increase the fidelity of your imagination. Reality amplifies the power of your creations. More important to you as someone who is creating is that reality is the place where your fixing mind can do actual work. You don’t fix things in your head! Don’t try. Ever try to get an editor to revise a piece that exists only in your brain? Yeah, me too. Doesn’t work so well.
If this sounds like a long preamble to “embrace shitty first drafts”, well…you found me out. But beyond shitty first drafts,I want to emphasize in a way that I couldn’t about five years ago that developing that skill to do the crappy first draft is everything. I think about projects that I never completed, versus those that I did, and the difference was always getting ideas out of my head and unto screen/paper as soon as possible. A commitment to anything, even crap, has helped me complete a lot of projects. When I forget this, and try to work out of my head, projects inevitably peter out and stall.
“It was just so perfect, but I couldn’t find a way to express it!” is the phrase you can put on the tombstones of most of the world’s failed creative projects.
Don’t make tombstones. Make art. Make games! If it’s in your head, write it down. Here’s another trick: find people to show your work to, but don’t get hooked on feedback. Feedback is great, but it is gravy on top of the real meat: creating the feeling of “shipping” at a small level. I talked about enthusiasm loops a few days ago, and the concept applies here. You don’t have to make the whole thing in one shot. Break it down into bits, create part of the thing, and then ship it to a micro-audience of folks you trust. Do whatever it takes to get your idea out of your head and into the real world, where you can then fix it and hone it into what you want it to be.