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Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are

One of the articles I stumbled across when thinking about perfectionism was this piece by Austin Kleon, called How to Steal Like An Artist.

It flew around the net at the time and you might already have seen it, or noticed the headline flashing by.  (It’s kind of eye-catching, isn’t it?)

The article is well worth a read - in fact, several reads; this is one to bookmark and keep coming backing to.

The section I wanted to highlight here was the part about not waiting.

He says: don’t wait until you know who you are until you start making things.

If I waited to know “who I was” or “what I was about” before I started “being creative”, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.

The whole piece and mindset behind it is a reassurance about what it does (and doesn’t) mean to be an artist, writer, or any kind of creative person.

You’re ready (he’s saying)

Start making stuff.

It’s well worth a read… before you get back on with the making of stuff ;-)

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  1. Conor Ebbs
    Twitter: ebbstachio

    Hey Joanna,

    I saw that post. Full of insight.

    I agree with him. Time spent gaining self-knowledge and awareness is time well spent, but forget about polishing it to a shine. That’s what creation is for. :)


  2. Alison Gresik says:

    That advice stood out for me too, Joanna, particularly because I’m rather obsessed with the idea of artistic identity at the moment. I agree that it’s in the doing that you figure out who you are, so beginners need permission to dive in and start experimenting.

    And I do think it’s important for more experienced creators to step back at certain points and see whether what they’re doing is lining up with who they now know themselves to be.

    For instance, I started off writing literary short stories because that’s what you do if you take writing in university. It wasn’t until I was years into my writing career that I paused to get perspective and ask, is this really what I want to write? Is this really MY medium? And it turned out, writing children’s novels is much more true to my interests and tastes as an artist.

  3. Jacqui says:

    That is incredibly powerful! It’s really shaken me up to be honest. This is exactly what I have been doing, waiting to know who I am or what I’m about, waiting to discover what my dreams are even, before I do any art - whether it be drawing or painting or my photography or writing. I always have this stumbling block and just don’t see anything I am producing as ‘art’ because I haven’t yet given myself the label of ‘artist’ and don’t know what label to give myself…. I will definitely spend more time contemplating this! Thank you.

  4. Nicola Henderson says:

    Thank you for directing me to Austin Kleon. That is a brilliant post - so sensible and thought provoking. Another death knell for perfectionism!
    Although I remember the headlines when the post first appeared, I didn’t read it until you drew my attention to it. And just now I read another reference to it in Oliver Burkeman’s latest article in the Guardian.

    I love synchronicity!

  5. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Conor, it’s a great piece isn’t it? one I think I’ll keep on coming back to at different stages of the journey

    Alison Gresik, hello, and thanks for jumping in… good point about the different stages of the creative process, and taking stock of what we’re doing compared to who we are now. And children’s novels sounds like something most delicious to dive into :-)

    Jacqui, I’m glad the words spoke to you. What you are describing can be particularly challenging if you are talented and express yourself in many ways, because none of the labels seems to fit (in your mind / heart), not quite writer, not quite photographer, not quite artist… you feel you’d like to be given a badge of one thing or another before you can go on your way… and yet… there is no such badge, only you, Jacqui, and the gifts and tools you have with which you can communicate some of what you see, hear and feel. And you know the people you share your work with will not mind a jot what ‘label’ you have or badge you wear, they will simply respond to what you write, paint, photograph, make, share.

    Nicola Henderson, oh I am glad - I wasn’t 100% sure about reposting this and piggy-backing on his ideas, but it seems it can add value to share in different places and different ways… And with a bit of synchronicity into the bargain!