In Defense of Bad Work

Perfectionism is a blessing and a curse. It means that I don’t settle for less than what I want. It also means that I have pages and pages of music that haven’t seen the light of day. My basement is littered with half-finished paintings. I can’t seem to finish projects or even start them, because I’m terrified of making something bad.


How many times have you sat down in front of your laptop to write, or stared at a blank canvas, or strummed a few chords, and then given up? If you’re me, the answer is (probably) somewhere in the billions. It isn’t for lack of inspiration. There’s a voice in the back of my head stopping me. It tells me that if my work isn’t perfect, it doesn’t deserve to be made. Good artists don’t make mistakes. Real artists could sit down and create a masterpiece without filling a trash can with crumpled-up paper.


This is, of course, ridiculous. I know it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t stop me from believing it.


But things are changing.


There wasn’t a defining moment when my mindset began to shift. It happened bit by bit, one abandoned project at a time. I looked at all the pages of music, all the half-finished paintings, and I realized that perfectionism didn’t make me a better artist. It kept me from doing what I loved.


So I’ve begun to make things for the sake of making them. Everything I produce doesn’t have to be a magnum opus. Sometimes it’s a sketch of my dog that looks nothing like her. Sometimes it’s a song with a few false notes. And that’s okay. The voice in the back of my head is still there, but I do my best to ignore it. It doesn’t matter that the work isn’t great. What matters is that it’s getting better.


There’s a quote attributed to Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Whether he really said it or not, the sentiment remains. I can’t find the right way until I find the wrong way.

If I’m afraid of making something bad, I will never make something good.


So I say, be bad. Be absolutely horrendous. Write a novel that winds up in the Barnes & Noble bargain bin. Sing off-key. Paint a landscape that looks like a toddler’s art project. Pursue your passion for the sole purpose of being happy.


And along the way, something good might come of it.

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