don’t get too attached to ideas, just create work

Back in my college days, I was very into photography. I was taught by a wonderful teacher who was, like any art school professor, a bit of an eccentric. He only wore black clothing: black t-shirts, black jeans, black cowboy boots. His thinning gray hair was tightly pulled into a knot atop his head and he was obsessed with all things Japanese. He was fairly tall and would have most definitely been “Big in Japan.” You get the idea.

Photography class was awesome. It was in this class I truly embraced being an observer of people and a storyteller — skills that I use to this day in my life and work. There were many valuable lessons and skills learned in this class (like critique!), but I want to focus on this one:

You have to produce a TON OF CRAP in order to create something beautiful or worth looking at / thinking about.

Yes, my friends, we are going back in time to the 1990s, where digital cameras either didn’t exist or were crazy expensive. And iPhones? Forget it! We’re talking FILM, baby. And lots of it. My photography adventures were exercises in bulk rolling my own film cartridges, taking copious amounts of pictures, and poring over contact sheets for that ONE (two if I was lucky) image that was fit for print.

In the end, even those images were probably crap, but the experience of all that shooting was invaluable. I learned to stop trying to take the perfect photo, to study scenes from multiple angles, and to generally be more comfortable with being all up in people’s faces. By producing tons of work, I was increasing my chances for success — that is, to get to the images that truly resonated.

There’s a great story in the book Art & Fear about a ceramics class that was divided into two groups: one group was tasked to make the perfect bowl, while the other group had to create as many bowls as possible. At the end of the semester, they would be graded on who actually did make the perfect bowl. As you can imagine, the group that produced tons and tons of bowls (and probably a lot of crap) had mastered the technique and made a pretty damn perfect bowl.

I’m trying to apply this same thinking to my writing lately. I think most of it is crap, but I just keep putting the words and sentences together because I want to see what I can reveal in the process. I encourage you to take this high production approach to something you’ve been noodling on lately. I’d love to hear more about what you discover.

I leave you with this photo I took of my niece on my last visit home. I just love her expression, but as you can see, it took quite a few photos to get there 🙂


Read more about the bowls story from Art & Fear on lifeclever’s blog.

3 Responses to don’t get too attached to ideas, just create work

  1. Bob Butella April 25, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    I’ve been told that Thomas Edison, when attempting to find a substitute for the rubber tree that was needed for making rubber, tried over 10,000 experiments (the crap). When asked why he wasn’t frustrated with all the failures he said he hasn’t failed (10,000 crap experiments) but rather he eliminated 10,000 items that they know don’t work which means were 1 step closer to the answer (the perfect bowl). Maybe crap isn’t the best word to use but I understand what you’re explaining. I often produce lots of crap in attempting to solve complicated accounting issues. I use plain paper with no lines and lots of pencil and lots of erasures as I think through a problem and produce lots of items that don’t work (the crap). And then, like out of the sky, the answer appears (the perfect bowl) as if an angel got tired of watching me and provided the answer which is usually elegant, clean, and perfect. Thanks for reading. (PS: “they” do help me a lot).

  2. Cali Harris (@caligater) April 25, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    Do you subscribe to Austin Kleon’s newsletter. Just today he shared this:

    • Roz Duffy April 26, 2014 at 2:43 am #

      I do subscribe but I hadn’t read it yet! Make no mistake, Austin Kleon is a HUGE part of my inspiration at the moment. I read both of his books last weekend 🙂

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