How to Do Your Best Creative Work

When I was in Grade 1 I drew a graphic. I don’t have it anymore, but from what I remember it looked like this:

Check out the perfect geometric lettering!

Punchy, eh? It’s an apple!

I was proud of my apple graphic, so I showed it to my classmate. You know what she said?

“You should do more. You should do the best you can. Instead of just writing, ‘Apple,’ maybe you should write, ‘The apple is red.’”

I stopped talking to her and walked away.

I knew she had only been copying what the teacher had been saying that week. And to a 6-year-old, copying is not cool.

Grade 1 was the year that teachers started telling us what it meant to do our “very best,” to make our greatest and best thing ever, to show her the most we could possibly do in each assignment. As an adult, I realize that all she really wanted was to mark us accurately, and she needed our most complicated work to do this. Years of consuming media and creating work have taught me the opposite of what I was supposed to believe during public school. I know that my longest and most complicated work is not my best.

My best work is work that I decided to do and then did. Because I did it.

If you’re struggling to get an idea out of your head and onto a medium, maybe you’re getting caught up in how “good” it has to be. That’s not going to help you make anything. Your brain can’t make stuff and care about impressing people at the same time; those two programs are not in the same part of your brain. Ironically, work that tries to impress people is not going to because its primary meaning will not be its own.

Creative work doesn’t have to be complicated, it has to be finished. Because of the variety of art out there nowadays, I can’t narrow the meaning of “finished” to traits like “polished” or “organized” even though a lot of art is better that way. A creative work is finished when it does what you want it to do.

Did anybody ever teach you that all of your creative work has to be complicated and big? Unteach yourself that. Instead, do what you want.


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