Exploring Women's Creativity

Taking Baby Steps

learn to accept taking small steps in your creative growth

creativity has its ups and downs

Writers talk a lot about "writer's block" but I find that blockages don't just apply to writers. For example I get cases of "quilter's block".

There are several stages of quilting where I might find myself putting off working on the project out of anxiety about messing the whole thing up. For starters, if the cutting is at all complicated, I can find myself hesitating to cut for fear of making the expensive fabric unusable. Once over that hurdle I usually do pretty well until it's time to sew the blocks together. Though I love arranging them in the most pleasing way possible if I'm unsure of the arrangement I find myself arranging and rearranging the blocks for days until I finally convince myself it can't really matter that much just how they are arranged.

Then I just take the plunge and sew the blocks together. But my really BIG blockage is when it is time to machine quilt the project. Here I have worked days, perhaps even months, on a quilt and I realize I could ruin the whole thing right then and there with my amateur machine quilting. This worry can drive me right into a housecleaning frenzy which is truly drastic avoidance for a quilter! Days later I finally brave stitching those layers together and sure enough it's not perfect at all. And it usually turns out that I'm the only one who can find the imperfections.

Of course writer's block isn't always thought to be about fear. Some writers say they simply can't think of what to write. That's why exercises and starter ideas can help. But then when these methods do succeed I suggest that they work because the writer considers them to be a just little gimmick. There is not the pressure of writing the "real thing". Yet often the resulting material contributes to the completed project.

Even though we may not be aware of it, blockages are often created by uncertainty about our ability to do the project up to the standard we have set for ourselves. Sometimes we are concerned there will be criticism by friends or family. Or it could be we need to sell our writing or art and are trying to guess what the editor or consumer will buy. But usually the fear is more internalized and often not even rational. Some of us become such perfectionists there is nothing we can create that we feel is good enough. Here is where a book like "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron can be a great help. My favorite passage in the book is, "Learning to create is like learning to walk. The artist child must begin by crawling. Baby steps will follow and there will be falls - yecchy first paintings, beginning films that look like unedited home movies, first poems that would shame a greeting card." The author, Julia Cameron, goes on to say, "Progress not perfection is what we should be asking of ourselves." and she then points out that, "It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time."

I believe that the need for 'baby steps' not only involves any new creative endeavor but also applies to the times we want to try something new within an area where we are experienced, for example changing genre in writing or media in art. I also find there are times when we simply heighten our aspirations for what we have been doing all along. We strive for something better and somehow in the process we are less satisfied with our work than we were before. Remembering we are taking 'baby steps' can be a nurturing and reassuring practice as we proceed.