Creativity is not about formulating the perfect idea. It’s about formulating enough ideas till you find a winner. Do you agree or disagree? I can understand skepticism regarding this idea. It makes sense that in order to come up with a really great idea you have to put a great deal of work into it. But this is where common sense may fail you. Creativity is counterintuitive.
There is more trial and error in creativity than you may realize. I once heard an analogy that may shed light on this point. In a college pottery class a professor split the class into two groups. Each group was given the same assignment: to make the best vase over the course of 1 month. However, each group was given different conditions. Group 1 could use as much time as they wanted on each vase they created. Group 2 could only spend a limited amount of time on each vase they made.
After the month elapsed the professor had the two groups present their final work. Each group, after a lot of hard work, unveiled their final work. Before the unveiling, there was an assumption made by the class that Group 1 was going to win. Given the limitations of Group 2 and the advantage of Group 1 you can see why they thought this. However, to everyone’s shock, the two vases unveiled could not have been more different regarding quality, aesthetics, and sturdiness. Group 2’s vase was unparalleled in every way. Group 2’s vase was superior to Group 1. But how could this be? Group 1 didn’t have any constraints. At best, Group 2 was slated to produce more, but no one thought their product would be better because group 1 was granted the time to make a masterwork.
The class demanded an answer from the professor. The professor smiled. He said because Group 2 was forced to produce more, they were given greater opportunity to learn from their mistakes. This allowed them to reflect, make modifications and ultimately create a beautiful final product whereas Group 1 put an inordinate amount of time into only a few vases effectively limiting their mistakes and limiting their learning. Therefore, more vases lead to more mistakes which lead to more learning and eventually to a better product.
The lesson for writers— and anyone really—write a lot and make a lot of mistakes. Don’t get hung up on making your work perfect. And don’t give up. The first book I wrote was an abysmal failure. The writing wasn’t good. The structure of the book was nonexistent. My sentences were clunky and unclear. I didn’t know who my target audience was. I probably made every writing mistake you could make. And sadly, I spent 2 ½ years on the thing.
I could have looked at all those failures and given up on my dream of becoming a writer. But, instead I learned from my mistakes and kept writing. I realized the first book was exactly that, my first. It wasn’t my one and only shot at writing a book I could be proud of. And the book wasn’t my one and only good idea. It was, in fact, the floodgate to a host of future ideas and books. After making this realization, I found that I was more excited to write. I had more ideas. I was more passionate and better equipped to execute my new ideas.
I now see my past writing failures as essential to my current writing successes. I recently finished and published my latest book on thinking errors that render parents ineffective. My latest book is When Parenting Backfires and its available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. I utilized all the lessons I learned in the writing of this book. Not only did I write the book in half the time it took me to write the first one, I also enjoyed the writing process more. The writing is clearer, more focused and purposeful. Again, this progress is the product of learning from failure.
My challenge to you, embrace the process of failure. Trust that your mistakes will lead to success. Trust that your current idea that feels like a dud will lead a stroke of genius. It will be a stepping stone to your magnum opus. And keep in mind it is an act of courage to create. Don’t think for a second that it’s trivial. No one else can articulate your vision with your voice and your passion. Only you can breathe life into your idea.