At first you’re excited about your new idea, but the more you work on it, the more inadequate your talent seems. Then the idea itself begins to seem weak. You have other ideas and now they seem better than your formerly new idea. You become discouraged. Progress slows, then stops.
If this has happened to you, watch this seventeen-minute talk by designer and illustrator Rilla Alexander, given at last year’s 99U Conference. Alexander is an Australian-born, Berlin-based designer and illustrator, and author of the children’s book Her Idea.
[Update, Oct. 21, 2013. I’m no longer able to embed the video, but you can still watch it here.]
Alexander is a wonderfully imaginative person and an effective speaker. The almost childlike simplicity of this presentation (illustrated with her own work) doesn’t make her ideas any less helpful to any creative person. Here’s just a few of her points that stuck with me:
Deadlines (starting at about 7:00): “I realize that I know how to finish ideas, because I do it all the time. But what makes those ideas any different? They’ve got a deadline. And those deadlines force me to have realistic expectations. Instead of being preoccupied with how wonderful my idea is, I concentrate on getting it done. The most important thing is that I actually make it happen.” Perfectionism, in other words, can be paralyzing.
Boundaries (about 10:00): “If I set boundaries [i.e., deadlines, self-imposed rules] it means I have to make less decisions while I’m actually working. But it’s also so I’ve got something to push against. I like to squeeze into the gaps between the rules and to create something unexpected.”
Persistence (10:25) “I accept that it’s very unlikely that this idea is going to work out right away. I have to refine it. I have to untangle it. I have to make it work.”
Competing ideas (about 11:00): “There’s always going to be another idea that looks better. But that’s because I’m not working on that idea. If I started working on it, then I’d also discover its flaws and failures.”