I’m in the car shuttling kids from one place to another when I’m suddenly struck with an idea for a brilliant design. I can see it so clearly in my mind’s eye and I become totally consumed with developing it and making it come to life.
The rest of the daytime hours are spent thinking about my idea, mulling over how it’s all going to come together, just waiting for the hours after the kids are tucked into bed so that I can run up to the studio to get started.
When 8:00 pm rolls around and I’m a little tired, but still raring to go. The first stages go smoothly, fueled by my assuredness that this is going to be awesome. Then I start drawing pattern pieces, cutting fabric, sewing stuff together and when I finish what I’ve made is so misshapen I can hardly look at it. By now it’s 10:00 pm and I’ve got to go to bed.
The next day, I still believe in my idea and feel sure I can fix it. Massive edits ensue. Every pattern piece gets redrawn and I make a second prototype and stuff it. And it’s still terrible. Actually in some ways it’s worse than the first.
Monkey heads with various failed muzzles.
But now I can see, at least partially, what went wrong. Third time’s a charm, right? More edits, more redrawing. I sew and stuff the third prototype. Still terrible. Okay, more research, more sketching, and then another one. I’m getting closer, but not really. Sometimes there are nine cycles like this, or twelve.
And you know what? This is when most people give up. When questions pop up about whether this idea was so hot in the first place, whether it’s even possible, or possible for me, it’s easy to just say forget it. You hear yourself asking why you’re wasting your time and your materials on making crap. And who do you think you are anyway. Toss it out. Go watch TV.
This is when I come downstairs into the family room with a seriously grumpy look on my face and Charlie says,
“I’m in hell,” I say.
“I can tell.”
He knows what I’m talking about because this happens every time.
In this moment we are presented with a crucial choice: give up or persevere.
Many terrible kangaroos. There were more.
Creative work involves constant problem solving, fixing, and refining. When you’ve developed a level of expertise in what you’re doing, it gets easier because you can more easily predict what will go wrong and you’ve acquired enough skills to correct errors mid-stream.
In order to develop that expertise, though, you have to continually choose to persevere.
Even naturally talented designers, and designers with formal education in their field, and designers with all the trappings of success, acquired their expertise through perseverance. If you probe just a little bit into their success stories you’ll see that more often than not they got where they are because they refused to stop trying.
The more you make, the more you force yourself to forge through those moments when you are closest to giving up. And every time you come out the other side with a finished product, every time you persevere, your level of expertise deepens.
So you know what? Go get that prototype out the garbage and make another one. And one more after that. Eventually you’ll see why the problems exist. You’ll be able to anticipate them and correct for them before you even begin.
The problems you’re having with this design won’t be there for the next one. They’ll be new problems to solve, but you’ll have the expertise you need to forge through those, you just need to persevere.
Have a tale of perseverance in creative work? Been ready to throw in the towel? Made a few prototypes, or a few dozen? Let's hear it.