Perfectionism

This week I had a conversation with an old friend of mine, a fellow Berklee graduate who studied songwriting. She sent me her newest song, which was, of course, incredible. She made a comment about how in the first verse, she rhymed you with you, and she asked if I might puzzle around with some replacements. I responded, “IT’S ILLEGAL!” (in our prestigious world of songwriting rules). But it worked, and it worked well.

So, I told her, maybe we can disregard the rule here? Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist”; right?

This sparked a conversation about the songwriting toolbox; sometimes, when you focus only on the tools, you do more damage. My friend responded, “I only use the tools if I am stuck.” I realized that I've been spending too much time trying to fix things that aren’t broken.

Here’s how I see it: you can design a house and spend years anticipating all the things that could go wrong. You can resize, prepare for natural disasters, change the type of wood that you’re planning to use… But you can’t fix something that doesn’t exist yet; at some point, you have to start building. It’s not until you put materials together that you begin to see how things work. Now, I am no craftsman, but I imagine a shiny tool box doesn’t accomplish anything without a plan and some materials. The same goes for songwriting.

Back in 10th grade, I had a fellow classmate who was cherished for crafting flawless songs. I spent an entire month, every day sitting in a practice room, trying to write a song that was as good as her work. After a few weeks, I realized I had wasted time trying to be perfect (and trying to be someone else) instead of creating art that felt true to me. It was a good lesson. Perfectionism is a great tool when it comes to editing, but it’s a detriment to creativity.

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” - Margaret Atwood

It’s easy to get frozen in perfectionism. Here’s a trick that works for me: give yourself permission to create something awful. I’m serious. Sit down and say, “I’m going to write an awful song, and that is better than writing nothing!” You might even surprise yourself by what you come up with. And if you absolutely despise the thing? Guess what? No one has to hear it.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”  - Anne Lamott

That’s the issue: a lot of creatives I know feel like every song, every painting, every work of writing needs to be perfect. Don't be afraid to create to improve your skills, to have fun, and to learn more about your craft.

“It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” - Ira Glass

I am by no means the master of overcoming perfectionism. I was stunted for months with starting this blog, paralyzed by the fear that I’ll miss something, come across as arrogant, or get negative responses. But it's time to put my work out into the world; flaws and all!

A Few Things To Remember:

  • Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.
  • You can’t fix something that doesn’t exist yet; at some point, you have to start building!
  • Perfectionism is a great tool when it comes to editing, but it’s a detriment to creativity.
  • Give yourself permission to create something awful; not everything you create will be perfect. Accept that!
  • Create to improve your skills, to have fun, and to learn more about your craft.

How do you tackle the battle between perfectionism and creativity? What are your tips and tricks? Leave a comment or shoot me a message with your thoughts!

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