Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Is Your Work "Good Enough"?

Try these when your inner critic keeps you from moving forward.

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Creative people who are struggling sometimes send me questions. Today I'm sharing one of those letters with my response.

Hello Doctor Perry,

I am in the process of reading your book Writing in Flow and am enjoying it immensely. Rather than seeking fame and fortune I focus my creative energies on being autotelic, and value the intrinsic benefits of creative engagement.

However, I have hit a stumbling block. I write and draw graphic novels. I try to set clear goals that are empirically measurable, such as finishing a page each day. However, the subjective nature of the quality of my work haunts me. It undermines my confidence and prevents me from continuing the flow experience.

I have considered developing a daily survey to measure how I feel about the quality of my work, but I am afraid that no matter how good the quality appears to others, I will never be satisfied and always mired in self-doubt. I have also tried postponing judgement until the work is complete, without success.

Jesse L. Nix

Dear Jesse,

Sorry it's taken me so many months to come up with a reply for you, but your question is a challenging one. Here are a few things to try:

1. Think of your obsessiveness about the quality of your unfinished work to be like any obsession. Learn to live with it without having to do anything about it. Like one who struggles with overweight and finds the sight of a cookie left on the table as a constant temptation, but finds ways to shove those thoughts (or the cookie) aside.

2. Try mindfulness about your propensity to pre-judge your work. "Okay, I hear you, Inner Critic, but you are in my way. Maybe what I'm drawing today isn't so good—yet—but I don't care. We can talk later."

3. Accept self-doubt as absolutely normal, typical, and probably unavoidable for a creative person. Here's a great quote from the terrific Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville (from an interview with Ben Ehrenreich in The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers). Banville claims he hates all his books:

With a deep, abiding hatred. And embarrassment. I have this fantasy that I'm walking past [a bookstore] and I click my fingers and all my books on the shelves go blank. . . . And then I can start again and get it right. I hate them all. They're all so far below what I had hoped they would be. And yet one goes on.

In my own work, I've revised and re-polished my current novel countless times. Literally, countless. Each time, I more or less like the final result. Then time goes by (days, weeks or months) and I can find small ways to improve it. I doubt I'll ever feel it (or anything I create) is as good as it "should" or "could" be.

Also check out this early post of mine: Before You Create, Pacify Your Inner Critic.

Copyright (2012) by Susan K. Perry 

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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