Putting it Together – Doubt
Putting it Together is my Monday “artist talking about art stuff blog”. The title comes from “Sunday in the Park with George,” the best (and possibly only) musical that is entirely dedicated to an artist talking about his art. Is that pretentious enough?
As I try to make sense of how to be a creator whose job is creation, I have a lot of doubts and fears. Am I good enough? Why didn’t I start doing this ten years ago? Can I even do this? What do I do first?
The voice inside my head isn’t a pessimistic one. I prefer to think that it is a realist. The questions aren’t the problem. As long as I have some good answers.
Doubt is part of any creative process. At least I hope I’m not the only person who goes through it. I assume that most people who produce something that exists primarily to entertain other people spend at least some small amount of time wondering if what they made was good enough.
Creative people tend to surround themselves with other creative people. In part we do this because we all have something to talk about. Comedians spend hours talking about comic theory. We don’t just want to know if the joke is funny, we want to know why it is funny.
Musicians spend hours talking about music. Artists spend hours talking about art. Writers spend hours talking about writing.
It is, at least to some extent, our obsession. If we want to do it well, we have no choice but to be obsessed.
My problem with hanging out with all of these people is that they are all funnier than I am.
At least that is how I feel about them. I watch the work they produce and wonder if I’ll ever write something that witty or that popular or that intelligent. Maybe I never will. Maybe they are just that much better than me.
Or maybe they are more experienced. Or maybe they are writing a different kind of comedy.
I have to think that every creative person I know thinks the same thing about most of their creative friends. They surround themselves with people who they think are better than them. Maybe it’s just because we’re all so neurotic that we are constantly in search of anything that proves we are horrible.
I think there’s a hierarchy in comedy. Everyone working in comedy hangs around with people who they believe are funnier than they are in hopes that some of that whatever-it-is-that-makes-the-other-person-great will rub off on them. It forms this gigantic pyramid of funny people with Steve Martin at the top (because he’s funny and he can play the banjo).
All of this self loathing can seem like a bad thing but the fact is, you don’t get better if you think you are the best you will ever be.
I’ve never written a song and said “this is the best song I will ever write” because if that is true, why should I bother writing another song? Instead, I try to streamline lyrics, refine harmonies and generally find ways to make whatever I wrote better.
Surrounding yourself with talented people serves as a reminder that you must always be trying to improve what you do. You can’t settle for the last thing you wrote – even if it was a huge success.
There is no question that doubt can be crippling. At times, I’ve been afraid to work on something simply because I’m too busy comparing what I’m writing to what I see around me.
More often, though, I use doubt as a motivator. Maybe I’m not as good as some of those people. That is certainly possible.
I can try to aspire to what they do, though, and even surpass it. I can try to make them look at something I’ve done and think “man, I wish I’d written that.”
If you are going to put your work in front of other people, doubt is unavoidable.
But if you use doubt in the right ways, it will make your work better.
If you are a creator and you enjoy this blog please share! Also, I invite comment and conversation. Thanks for reading!
Next week’s column will be about collaboration!