Help me embrace being bad at hobbies (without judging myself)
February 19, 2018 6:04 AM   Subscribe

I want to start using my free time to explore more creative hobbies, like drawing and writing (or, ideally, combining these things and making short comics). I've always wanted to make things, and right now I spend way too much of my free time mindlessly refreshing social media and reading the news compulsively. But I'm scared to try -- I'm having a hard time accepting the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy that come from being a beginner at something, and also wrestling with feelings of guilt over doing creative things.

I know some of this anxiety stems back to childhood. I had an emotionally abusive parent and some of that abuse involved yelling at me or punishing me for "inappropriate" drawings and creative writing. (I drew some weird stuff, though nothing violent or upsetting, and my parent thought it meant I was "on drugs" or somehow "crazy," and some of it was perceived as "perverted" or "blasphemous.") So from a very early age I always had to hide my work, and even when it was hidden, my parent would ransack my belongings when I wasn't around to find things to yell at me about. That went on until I left home. So... there's that.

I was also involved in a competitive sport as a kid, with a coach who could get similarly abusive, and both the coach and my parent would yell at me if I did poorly at a competition and "failed." (Once after a competition where I messed up, they both gave me the silent treatment for the whole ride home and a whole day after. The coach kept up the silent treatment for a week of practices, and my parent thought I was "overreacting" for being upset.) So... there's also that.

I've been in therapy and have addressed these past experiences. And I'm not in contact with the parent. I have no reason to fear any sort of repercussions for writing or drawing now, and I have a secure living situation where I don't have to fear people finding my things and judging or punishing me for them, but it still scares me to think about creating stuff. And that fear has morphed into more general fears: what right do I have to think I'm entitled to create, there's already too much content in the world, I don't have anything original to say and would just take up space, creative work is self-indulgent when you're not actually practiced and good at it, I'm too old to start learning, I hate being a beginner and messing up and failing, if I'm not perfect and talented from the start I'm a failure, etc.

I can also be really judgmental of other people when I perceive them as being "entitled" or "self-obsessed" or "self-indulgent". I'm trying to work on this, too, but I feel like I become one of the people I roll my eyes at were I to start thinking of myself as some kind of "artist" or "writer" when I am really not good enough at either of those things to call myself either. (I know the answer is "stop being a jerk and rolling your eyes at anyone!" but I'm not quite there yet.)

Even typing up all of this feels embarrassing and trite, but I can't figure out how to get over my perfectionism. I know how common this question is, but any advice is appreciated. I can't seem to just embrace the "feel the fear and do it anyway" ethos, I think because it's not just fear but a sort of revulsion at looking self-important or arrogant or deluded about my abilities or showing off. Forcing myself doesn't seem to work. Telling myself that no one else has to know or see doesn't help because I keep judging myself -- I feel like my efforts are not just wastes of paper, but somehow make me a worse person for having tried, or reveal that I'm a selfish person for being so indulgent. I know this is not a logical way to feel, but I can't seem to shake it. If anyone else has grappled with similar experiences, I'd love to hear what works for you.
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (37 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that has really helped me with this (I was yelled at for doing anything poorly as a child) is doing art with my own young child. Little kids are awful at art for the most part, but I encourage them anyway because it feels obvious that's how they learn. I sit down and color with my kid and other kids. And it has been a really freeing experience for me.

Can you vontuneer with preschool age kids where drawing may be involved? So pretty much any daycare like setting. Good luck.
posted by Kalmya at 6:27 AM on February 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

You're definitely not the only one. I've been working on a project the past few days and even though I deliberately chose cheap materials I don't love and will not be sad to throw away if/when the whole thing is a mess, and even though I have told myself that this is just a test run and it doesn't matter, I still feel incredible anxiety and resistance at every step.

One trick I've heard of is purposely trying to create something bad. Tell yourself you're going to make a really mediocre drawing, for example. You can burn it when you're done. Just get the hands going.

Morning pages, an exercise from The Artist's Way, is a tool specifically meant specifically to get your negative, messy thoughts out of the way so you can really put yourself into your work.

I haven't tried this myself but while writing this comment I wonder if a quick walk/jog or meditation before settling down to work would also help.

I will be watching this space with great interest. Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 6:27 AM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'll be reading replies with interest as I have the same issue myself - none of the childhood baggage, but all of the "I can't sit on my own with this blank page and my own words, because I'm scared they might be embarrassingly terrible, even when all the feedback I've ever had points to the contrary". And all the fear that I have nothing to add to the world, my words aren't needed and so on. I think it's really common, and is why so many people who want to be writers don't become writers.

So I don't have a full answer, but I can (and frequently do on AskMe) recommend Liz Gilbert's Ted Talk on living a creative live without going mad. It's all about freeing yourself from the need to be a genius in order to be creative, just showing up and putting in the hours and accepting it's actually not up to you how good it turns out to be.

If you like that, look into Liz Gilbert's Magic Lessons podcasts, on the same theme. Each episode she talks to a different non-professional creative person (writers, poets, musicians, etc) who is somehow stuck, and talks to them about getting through it. Pretty much every person she counsels has a story like yours, so if nothing else you'll realise your problem isn't extreme or unusual, it is at the very heart of the creative process for most people.

A guy I know who's a very successful playwright tells a story about a friend of his who came to see one of his plays for the first time, and then just looked at him in horror, and said "Oh my GOD. You just stick your hand down your throat, grab your heart, rip it out, and throw it all over the stage for everyone to see". That's what we're all trying to do, that's why it's so terrifying.
posted by penguin pie at 6:30 AM on February 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

Like Kalmya, I found that doing things with little kids really helped. It's SO easy for me to see that it's just obviously fine for a three year old to draw. It's expected for a three year old's drawings to be short on either technical merit or world-shattering insight. It's normal not to pressure little kids into making "better" art. And it's easy to start thinking about how to manage kids' own frustrations with their drawing - some little kids are also perfectionists!

I found that having patience with children was a great first step to having patience with adults or with myself.

I also wonder whether framing this as "learning to draw" or "practicing" or "fun" or "self care" would be an easier framing for you than calling it Creative Work - maybe that would help you avoid dealing with the question of whether you're An Artist or whether your art has any value outside your own sketchbook. Would it help to follow some sort of structured course or tutorial that removes the creative aspect for a bit, while you learn how to just be comfortable with drawing stuff?
posted by quacks like a duck at 6:40 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Give yourself permission to fail fast. For example, if you are wanting to learn to draw, do extremely quick 'sketch studies' of 2 minutes, maybe 5 minutes tops. Set a timer. Stop when it is done and start a new one. If you are painting then spend your time just mixing colors and dabbing them onto a surface. Try mixing more or less completely. Try dab-mix-dab-mix-dab-mix and see what happens. If you are creating music, just experiment with what noises your instrument can make. Don't aim to play a song, just create sound. If you are woodworking simply take a block of wood and change it with the tools. See what interesting shapes result after fifteen minutes.

To re-frame this as an opportunity, you get to practice doing something without expectations of your own or others. It will feel weird to be doing something without a goal in mind, but that is a wonderful thing to practice.
posted by meinvt at 6:42 AM on February 19, 2018

I have similar problems (thanks parents!) so I can recommend a lovely activity book by Quentin Blake, Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered. It comes with pencils and encouragement and humour. Even my similarly perfectionist and terrified husband found it fun.

US Amazon link. Other booksellers are available.
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 7:04 AM on February 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I can't seem to just embrace the "feel the fear and do it anyway" ethos

My advice is not so much that, but more "practice failing, a lot". You need to desensitize yourself to it a bit. The advice up thread "One trick I've heard of is purposely trying to create something bad. Tell yourself you're going to make a really mediocre drawing, for example. You can burn it when you're done. Just get the hands going. " is similar.

If you want to prove to yourself that you really can do it, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain really helped me with that part, even though I don't really draw at all now several years after going through it.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:25 AM on February 19, 2018

I can't seem to just embrace the "feel the fear and do it anyway" ethos

What about switching it to a more "mindful of the present moment" thing? Along the lines of yes, my inner critic is doing its critic monologue, and that's fine, and I can let it go along without getting wrapped up in the story it's telling me, maybe even thank it for its input, and I can pay more attention to what this line on the paper looks like, or how the paintbrush feels in my hand, or what the light looks like reflecting off that object. It seems like shifting the focus away from giant "What if other people say/think X" and more toward "I am drawing something right now and that process is interesting, regardless of result" might be helpful.
posted by lazuli at 7:42 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, I know it has the opposite effect for some, depending on the teacher, but I found going to yoga classes (with a VERY non-competitive atmosphere) really helpful, because I literally fell down often and I would just laugh and re-try the pose and yoga is a pretty silly thing to get all super-serious and judgmental about -- you're making funny shapes with your body, and your body is unlikely going to make the exact same funny shape as someone else's body, and it's kind of neat to see all the various ways that different bodies work. Maybe yoga's not the right practice for you, but are there less-personally-fraught practices than art where maybe you could practice being nonjudgmental and playful?
posted by lazuli at 7:46 AM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

bunderful mentioned the morning pages from The Artist's Way above, but really the entire book is designed to deal with the problems you are addressing.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:47 AM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way is a workbook that addresses this directly. It's been a long time since I've read it but I believe she refers to this internal voice as the Censor and there is a lot in her book about how to overcome it. It's something of a classic--worth checking out.
posted by Sublimity at 7:53 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

What about taking a class? Community colleges usually have a variety of creative or artistic classes. That way, you show up, get instruction, practice, explore and are freed from finding so much inner strength and motivation to make it happen. Then you can continue creating at home.
posted by amanda at 8:18 AM on February 19, 2018

For me, the key was finding something where the physical, sensuous pleasures ruled out the fear of failing. It was gardening, in my case. I have a black thumb. I'm a terrible gardener. But my home came with a garden and I really love being outside and so every year I plant some stuff and hey--five years later, I'm consistently more successful than I was five years ago, even if there still are garden pests and failures and last year I carefully tended a bunch of poisonous bur cucumbers. Oops! Reading the works of Ruth Stout also helped me. She's like, hey, who cares if what you're doing is "wrong" or "right" when you can enjoy gardening nude (if you want) and sometimes eat some yummy things at the end of it all?!

This process helped me see that, hey, I was wasting a lot of time being afraid of looking stupid! Ironically, I'm successful in a highly competitive creative field, but it always felt safe because I was "gifted." And yet, still, there were risks I was afraid of taking because of fear of failure. But I'm better at failing now. Who cares?

Like, I have wanted to learn to juggle my whole life, but I'm physically uncoordinated and was just plain bad at it as a kid. But with the gardening stuff, I realized that if I do something over and over again, eventually you get better at it. So I've been juggling for ten minutes a day and I'm still not good but I am better at it than I was ten minutes ago. I do it when no one is watching, mostly, except when I talk about failing and make videos of myself juggling badly, because, I've realized, who cares? And I think talking about failing is helpful for other people. And hey, I've kept going for ten minutes a day, and I'm better now than I was when I recorded that video--cool! A friend suggested that maybe by my 50th birthday I'll be able to juggle fire. I like that idea. Why not?!

I'm sorry your parents were unsupportive. I have realized that I, too, was given a lot of false beliefs about ability and learning. I was teased a lot, even within my family, and thought my obsessions and expressions were weird and inappropriate. And I thought that I should have been as capable as the 40 year old grown people around me, as if they were born that way. Ha. Adulthood has meant exploding those beliefs. I was cool. I was interesting. Those passions were not shameful but could have propelled me to even earlier, deeper success, if I hadn't been so afraid of looking stupid. I don't really know what the function of this teasing was, except for keeping me in line, in a certain box and . . . why? Luckily I connected with just enough people, had just enough support that I did some things (writing, poetry, art, for awhile) anyway and I am learning to honor those voices above the abusive internalized voices.

So yeah, I say, pick something you have always wanted to do--tending a garden, juggling, playing ukulele, learning Esperanto--that doesn't mean as much to you FIRST. Do it every day. Practice looking stupid in front of no one but yourself. Do it for a month straight, two months straight, six months straight, put a sticker on a calendar as a reward when you do. Just ten minutes or five minutes, enjoy the sensuous pleasures of the act and watching yourself grow. By learning, and continuing to learn, you're flexing creative muscles. Then you can come back to your art and understand that looking silly doesn't mean anything and doesn't last forever. It's a foundation. It's a start. Someday, your inability and mistakes will be a memory, and you'll be making new mistakes, better mistakes.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:48 AM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

There are certain skills that I wanted to learn that made me very nervous to make a mistake - most notably sewing and making bread with yeast. I found it helpful to go very slow and set up little practical exercises to build skills. And, when doing them, to really mindfully feel my apprehension. That's living! Trying something really truly new! That's the feeling of being alive.

Read up on the phases of adult learning. It's so common to feel this way.

And... Ryan Gosling has some words of advice too
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:56 AM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

You've gotten some great suggestions here - just wanted to step in and recommend the oft-cited book, Art and Fear.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 9:11 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." -G.K. Chesterton.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:39 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would reframe this - it is not about making art, it is about finding a more pleasurable use of your free time than refreshing social media and reading the news. So the test is not "did I make worthy art", the test is just "is this not as big a waste of time as surfing the Internet?"

So, if the end result is rubbish, who cares? As long as the process of making was engaging you, it is worth doing. You may have a goal of wanting to get better, to develop your craft but keep reminding yourself to stay focused on the process - learning ,creating, experiencing and not the end product.

At some point, you may have an end product that you want to share. Even then you don't need to be a capital "A" Artist - you can just be someone who makes things that adds a little bit of joy to someone's life. Most artists throughout most of history created in order to add beauty to their world not to become a famous "Artist".

All of this is much easier to say than believe but it has helped me to lower expectations and keep focus on my real reasons for doing the work.
posted by metahawk at 12:13 PM on February 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

One thing that's helped me is to explicitly set goals that are well short of perfection. I actually write them down in advance, which somehow makes them solid and keeps me from unconsciously raising the bar on myself.

As an example: I've been curling for three years now, and I'm still not great at it. As in, I'm regularly shown up by children who started curling six months ago. I have been incredibly embarrassed by this at times, but it helps to show up to each game with a very small goal, like "step into the hack with your toe pointed the correct way every time".

It gives me a sense of achievement in accomplishing the small goal, and mostly displaces all the other things I did wrong.
posted by fencerjimmy at 12:28 PM on February 19, 2018

I have found the Done Manifesto to be very helpful in getting past the paralysis of perfectionist voices.

For writing, No Plot No Problem is also very refreshing
posted by Heloise9 at 12:53 PM on February 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Perfectionism is fear of failure, and a few years ago I thought: I'm already afraid of so much, I can't be afraid of me, myself. Not when I'm with that chick all the damn time.

My writing projects now involve things I want to learn as a writer -- alternating points of view, world-building, like that. And yeah, the minute I've mentioned my writing to anyone in real life, there's been a problem sitting down at the desk for the next session; childhood stuff and lifetime stuff factor in, and I do think that since I'm painfully aware of this, that awareness should beget transcendence. When it doesn't, when I'm my usual, limited, twitchy self, I'm peeved.

But I keep the date with my desk, and set timers. I focus on research or making outlines or something else, until I'm less self-conscious and interested again in what my characters have been up to while I've been angsting and avoiding them.

So much of this life is getting out of one's own way. Even if you never show your creative work to another soul, you'll learn so much more about your own.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:56 PM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Similar to what fencerjimmy said, setting goals is a great way to start out. You've got a lot of mental and emotional roadblocks to getting going, but if you can do this even in small bursts, it may be great practice to getting you where you really want to be. One of my favorite things about new hobbies is that you have so much to learn, and you're nowhere near that first eventual plateau where you feel a bit stuck… There are a lot of little wins in front of you if you know where to start!

I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It's full of straightforward drawing exercises designed to teach you all kinds of the basics. It can be so overwhelming trying to figure out where to start when you feel like you want to learn everything; doing these exercises gets you absorbing drawing knowledge and would help get you into the habit of making art every day, while taking the pressure off of you to wizard up genius masterpieces. One of my favorites was the Drawing Upside Down exercise.

I didn't have the same pressures from parents/authority figures growing up, and I'm so sorry that happened to you! It may help to realize and relish the fact that you don't have to share anything with anybody until you feel well enough ready to. I get a lot of joy out of working on things just for me, and it might be helpful to think of this that way, that no one can force you to share or find your hidden work against your wishes anymore, and you're free to take this wherever you want to.

On a similar note, the other day I was working on a small little painting that I was SO excited about. And then I made a horrible mistake while painting and ended up hating it. I was pretty bummed about this initially because I had been very proud of how it was coming along and looking forward to posting it on social media, and now I hated it. I didn't post it! What made me feel so much better is when I realized, hey – I don't like how it turned out, but I still just got two hours of painting practice in. I still learned a ton. The next painting is gonna be that much better. When I realized that every minute spent on art was invaluable practice, regardless of the individual outcome, I felt so much more at ease about the whole thing.

Good luck!
posted by caitcadieux at 1:20 PM on February 19, 2018

One thing that helped me was kits where you follow the instructions and bam, you have something pretty at the end, plus you get to practice your technique. Cross stitch charts, paint-by-numbers, miniature diorama kits, those embroidery kits where the design is printed on the fabric, all that sort of thing.

No, it's not very original, but it absolutely does get you better at the thing, and by the time you are trying original things, it comes *much* easier. (In my case it was cross stitch and other embroidery projects, but I spent a while with paint-by-numbers kits, learning how to handle acrylic paint.)
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

All the ideas above are great. I'd add a "time gap" method I find helpful.

I do thread crochet, fiddly little exacting things. Invariably, when I finish a piece, I am convinced it looks like absolute unshirted hell. So I put it away in a drawer or something, and forget all about it. Some indeterminate time later, I'll pull it out again and look at it. My response it usually "Jumping cats, did I do this??" Yes, yes, I did.

Construct a comic and put it away. While you are forgetting about it, make another comic. Then put that one away. While you are forgetting about it..... After you've done a Bunch, take out the first one again. Compare it to your most recent one. And marvel. You will have earned it.
posted by Weftage at 1:44 PM on February 19, 2018

I did these really great Christmas cards in 2016. I hit on a nice, minimalist idea and it worked really well. I was pleased with them and my recipients raved praise. Last year my Christmas cards looked like the cat had a problem and some paper got in the way. Nobody said anything good or bad about them and I don't GAF and I never will. Some years my Christmas cards are going to look like bad cat trouble and some years they're going to look better than that. That is the nature of creative effort. As long as I have made a tangible change to the elements I used to construct the Christmas cards, I have succeeded. I have made Christmas cards.

At first you should not try to do a good job. You should try to do a bad job.

Pick an art, get the supplies, clear a big space, make coffee or tea or a big fat brandy Alexander and turn on your favorite thing to listen to if what you picked will let you listen to things. Also get a remaindered box of valentines candy for supercheap--the big red heart with the various mystery chocolates in it. The biggest and most garishly varied available.

Then set out deliberately to fuck up whatever is your art project in a big, bright, loose, fun way. Ruin it on purpose with total self-indulgence. Yield to every impulse.

Every time you feel guilty about wasting supplies that could better be used by a real artist, just dive right into that big gnarly candy heart and chomp down on a mystery candy. Do like Paul "The Rooster" Sedaris with his fuckit bucket. The art project and the candy: same impulse to gorge.

When you've done this for a while and either are feeling bored or have made yourself sick eating too much guilt candy, walk away from the art project and go do something else fun. Come back later when it's "dry" or "cured" if it needed to dry or cure, and put it away.

Repeat this experiment regularly over weeks or months or however long it takes until you have burned through all the guilt and embarrassment. Then make a plan for a cool thing you could try to do and try to do it. Put that away, too. Make more deliberate efforts toward planned cool things. Put them all away. After a year or two of steady frolicking in this manner, take out all your art projects and look at them. Did you have fun making these things? Do they make you happy when you look at them? Congrats, keep doing it! Do you hate looking at these things because making them sucked most of the time? Congrats, you tried it and you don't like it. Now you can make a bonfire with this stuff and try a new thing!
posted by Don Pepino at 1:50 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing that may help is getting a little better at what you want to do, and that probably means instruction. Art teacher have ideas for even the most basic things like how to draw a straight line.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:14 PM on February 19, 2018

I just remembered the book The Creative License which I really enjoyed and which seems applicable here.
posted by bunderful at 3:40 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Give yourself permission to suck. Like, make a blog called "My Terrible Comics". Lower everyone's expectations, including yours. Draw things that are deliberately bad for a while, even.

It can help to have some kind of regular deadline. It can also hurt; personally I've had good results with an official comics production deadline of "aim for two pages a week, don't fret if life gets in the way". Play around and see what works for you. I found that having that promise to my readers and myself hanging over me helped; there are a lot of panels in my work that are nowhere near perfect, but are good enough to serve the needs of the story.

Also: read great comics, dissect them, steal shamelessly from them. I have done entire graphic novels and I still do that now and then. Steal panel layouts you like. Break down stories you like. (Take a short story you love. Read the first page and write down one sentence that describes what happens in it; repeat for each page. Now you have something to think about if you want to tell a story with a similar pace - maybe try it with a much slower story, or a faster one!) may be pretty useful for Learning How To Draw.

Oh yeah, and nothing is ever perfect on the first attempt. Scripts go through multiple revisions. So do drawings. What if you wrote a script for a short story, then rolled a die to see how many revisions you have to make before you can let yourself draw it? I'm not sure that's actually a good exercise but it'd certainly teach you something about everything not being perfect the first try!

If you have any Artistic Heros, look for their earliest work and compare it with their mature work. Bonus points if you can find their childhood drawings. Learning to draw is a long process; there are shortcuts, but going from "just started" to "can actually get people to pay money for drawings" is usually at least a five year process.

Collaborating can be useful. I learnt a hell of a lot about structuring stories from my SO, for instance.
posted by egypturnash at 8:01 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

On a similar but also different vein, consider giving yourself permission to not see yourself as sucking, even when you do. From the very beginning. By which I mean -- usually, even in the weird scribbles of a beginner, there is something in there beneath the shame and uncertainty that you absolutely wanted to be there and are proud of. I have drawings from when I was 11 that I still love -- not because I was some kind of virtuoso, but because they are time capsules into conversations I was having with myself long ago.

You wouldn't be ashamed of your artistic efforts if you hadn't revealed a bit of yourself through them, and you wouldn't be looking for ways to combat the shame if that process of revealing weren't important to you. Your strange, imperfect beginner drawings don't have to be about falling short of an objectively agreed upon ideal -- they can also remind you of the ideas you wanted to capture, deep down, like a language only you can read. What feeling did you want it to convey? Does the art convey that feeling? It doesn't entirely matter -- it's now a memento of that feeling.

I feel like when it comes to art, there's this really wide, important, interesting, productive space between Absolute Beginner and Sanctioned-By-Society Good and you can basically spend your whole creative life in there without it having been a waste. Art can be unique and interesting and worth looking at and sharing even if it's not super detailed or beautifully representative of a real-life object. Maybe it tells a story or just expresses something about shared human experience that makes the creator and the audience feel more understood. This is particularly relevant for comics. There will always be amazing, talented people doing technically skillful work that they spent their whole lives honing, but the "worthy of sharing" and "able to delight others" bar is much lower than that and is probably not years of tireless effort away.

Cultivating an appreciation for specific real-life imperfect creators might help, especially since your kneejerk reaction is to feel like what they're doing is bad and shouldn't be allowed -- maybe try to find some webcomics you might enjoy? A lot of them start out technically shaky and become more compelling and skillful as the artist improves through the practice of regularly drawing the comic.
posted by space snail at 9:09 PM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m not great at drawing. But 4 years ago I couldn’t even draw stick figures. My improvement is due entirely to the mindset I adopted: I am allowed to suck. I am not allowed to quit. The end. It’s unbelievably freeing to me. I may have 10 terrible pictures in a row. Doesn’t matter. Draw the next thing.
posted by greermahoney at 10:59 PM on February 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

This might be helpful: The Best Way to Learn Something? Make a Lot of Pots.
posted by Harald74 at 11:09 PM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I identify with a lot of this. Not the abusive parents (I'm sorry you went through that), but that internal voice is pretty much the same. I've tried a lot of different things over the years with no success. I did do two things recently that helped prime the pump, so to speak. I started playing music regularly with a band. It's about 90% covers but it's still been a positive experience.

The other thing I did last month was a challenge called "jamuary" (that link is for the hashtag) on instagram. I wish I could tell you by what magic it worked, but I'm still mystified myself. To give you some perspective: it's been decades of me wanting to create music and put it out into the world. Here I produced a bunch of music (or at least song sketches) in no time at all. It helped that there was a deadline (one a day) and manageable-sized goal. That internal voice? It was still there most of the time, but I didn't really have time for it. And yes, I will concede that I wasn't an absolute beginner, but I'm maybe intermediate at best.

I had an art teacher propose a sort-of similar exercise which was to divide a piece of paper into days of the month and fill each one of them with a drawing so you end up with a cumulative representation of what you did in the end.

I will say that if you can take a class, it might help provide structure and guidance for you so you're not figuring out everything on your own.
posted by O9scar at 11:27 PM on February 19, 2018

That make a lot of pots link is perfect. You don't even have to read the whole thing, just the anecdote in italics, to get the blazingly obvious solution, which is simply to flip your thinking about your goal. Your goal is not to make a beautiful splorf. Your goal is to learn how to make splorfs.

(PS: I heart this question and this thread. I might start doing a thing because of it.)
posted by Don Pepino at 6:14 AM on February 20, 2018

Two bits.

Set your expectations lower. Find one book priced under $3 on Amazon. It needs to have hundreds of five star reviews, and should probably be available on amazon unlimited. Pick randomly. Read the first chapter. If you want to write, the goal isn't to be Hemingway or Shakespeare. The big first goal is to beat dime store novels.

Start small. If you look at someone who tries to get better over time? Set progressively bigger and bigger goals for yourself, not one huge goal that Must Be Overcome. Write a five page magazine story, instead of a five-hundred-page coming-of-age novel. ;-)
posted by talldean at 12:47 PM on February 20, 2018

It's facile, but This Woman Won’t Pursue Anything Unless She’s Perfect At It On the First Try is kind of funny and also makes the point quite neatly. It's at least worth the 60 seconds it takes to read to see if it punctures the self-importance that goes with perfectionism.
posted by penguin pie at 2:41 PM on February 20, 2018

Folks here have good artistic suggestions but I wanted to say I'm seeing a lot of echoes here from what I know about trauma and the ways we absorb it into ourselves. You may benefit from reading The Body Keeps The Score and see if it rings true to you. I'd also suggest some specific trauma-directed counseling, to try and defang your memories and past experiences of being yelled at, berated, and criticized.
posted by Lady Li at 3:54 PM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Making art out of my distorted thoughts is part of my practice. I have a lot of pages in my sketchbook that have sketches of typography designs spelling out what my brain is obsessed with in the moment.

My three most recent posts on my art instagram are motion graphic/video pieces that have animated typography of the thoughts "But I don't want to be this strong", "I'm not myself these days" and "because it hurts less than looking inside."

Off the top of my head, other thoughts I've turned into "art" pieces, "Suck it up (and go to the container store)", "Fail at something today", "climb until the bad thoughts go away", "health > wealth", "Deadines rule everything around me".

The my favorite video I've made to date started out with an obsessive thought in the composition, but as tried out different things and added to it and got inspired, I took out the text and developed the other parts, and accidentally found a song that worked really well with the aesthetic. I don't even remember what the thought I originally sat down with was.

So, draw your feelings. Or, pull up a screen full of bird images (I love drawing birds. And wild animals. but especially birds.), try to draw birds, get distracted by your feelings, draw them, then draw birds. Maybe draw birds having your feelings. Draw the monsters of your feelings plus bird elements. Personify your feelings and draw your interactions with them.
posted by itesser at 9:08 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Perhaps it would help to try a more developmental approach. Using painting as an example, you could try a picture with a certain type of perspective one time, a different approach to light another time, then a technique about color. Concentrate on what you are learning, not on the finished works.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:37 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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