Bb: Baby Steps and Walking Before You Can Run

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

Bb:  Baby Steps
Walking Before You Can Run

Unless you’re an actual baby, baby steps look ridiculous, so stuttering and disappointing that they’re nearly intolerable.

Whether you’re beginning your craft or getting back into shape after some time away, your first attempts will be unbearably disappointing, falling so short of the idea you hold in your head that you’ll want to quit.

And yet, there’s no other way to start. Most of us can’t pick up a paint brush for the first time or after years away and compose the marvelous image we hold in our mind. It takes time and practice to build the skills, muscles, and stamina we need to render on canvas what spins and sparkles in our imagination.

Ann Patchett describes it perfectly in her book This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage:

“Only a few of us are going to be be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.”

So, you must endure the breaking of your own heart, muster your resolve, and put one foot in front of the other again and again until you toddle your way a little closer to the ideal of your imagination. It might take months, but it could take years. However–do not give in to the temptation to quit because at just that moment, you might be on the verge of a break through.

For example, I recently came across an old notebook I’d stopped using when I quit trying to produce an illustrated ‘zine. With a few years of perspective, I could see that both my stories and my drawings were good, a lot better than I’d thought at the time. What if I hadn’t quit?  What if I’d given it one more month? Maybe that’s all I needed for my idea to start to take shape in a way I could appreciate.

If you’ve quit efforts before, get back on that horse as they say. You may have to treat yourself gently at first, like a baby learning to walk, and pat yourself on the back for the scribbled efforts that comprise your first steps.

After two years of almost no writing or drawing, I sat down one day to start again. I still remember what I drew—a stick figure rendering of a lady bug. It felt humiliating and crushing because it took so much effort to think of this silly thing to draw, and it looked so awful. However, some small quadrant of my brain got a puff of oxygen and a little burst of light as a result of that difficult creative effort. The relief to be creating again felt just as strong as the disappointment in what I drew.

So, I congratulated myself for my effort and literally patted myself on the back. I promised myself I’d come back tomorrow and try again, and consoled myself with the second promise that after a few weeks of effort, I could toss these baby steps into the recycling bin–which I did, with great relief; although now I wish I had the bug to show you just how awful that first step looked.

Where else can you begin but here? Celebrate your baby steps. Ham it up, just like you would for a toddler. Cheer, clap, and give yourself a treat for practicing your craft three days in a row, in spite of the results not measuring up to the vision you hold in your mind. You’ve got to start here or not start at all. Ultimately, some initial bumbling along will feel a lot less painful than the disappointment of not having tried at all.

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13 Responses to Bb: Baby Steps and Walking Before You Can Run

  1. EcoCatLady says:

    You know, I spent 16 years running a music school. A good chunk of our students were adult beginners, and over the years I heard just about every excuse known to humankind as to why it was SOOOO much harder to learn an instrument as an adult than as a child.

    But the conclusion I came to was that this is all just total BS. When you compared an adult who’d been playing for 8 weeks to a child there was absolutely no question that the adults performed infinitely better than the kids. The thing is, the kids thought their horrific out of tune renditions of Three Blind Mice were something to really be proud of, while the adults cringed and cowered with embarrassment at every note.

    I think the real issue is that once we become adults we get really used to being good at things and lose the emotional capacity to deal with the inevitable difficulties that being a beginner entails. So if you looked at those same beginning students after a year or 2 rather than 8 weeks, the kids were sailing along while most of the adults had long ago thrown in the towel and given up.

    Anyhow… sorry for the long comment but I remain firmly convinced that if you want to get good at something you simply have to approach it like a child… you just keep on working at it (playing at it would be a better word choice) without judging yourself at every turn!

    • TRISTA says:

      EcoCatLady–this is so beautifully put! I love your observation and insights about adult attitude versus child attitude. My goal is now to be like the kids playing Three Blind Mice.

  2. Rajlakshmi says:

    I can so relate to your post. Being impatient I often lose heart if I fail at first. But somehow being stubborn helps. These days I am dedicated to Yoga. It sometimes is very discouraging when I can’t do a pose, but I keep trying and hope one day I would be able to do all those poses with ease.

    • TRISTA says:

      Yes! I see so many similarities between creative effort and practicing yoga! For example, some days, a difficult pose slides right into place, and I’ll think, “Oh! Now I can do it!” And then, two days later, that same pose is back to feeling nearly impossible. I think yoga practice and creative practice share the aim of showing up every day, accepting where you’re at, and working with what you’ve got. But in both, it’s so hard not to see the stellar practitioners and wish to be more like them.

  3. Alex Hurst says:

    Very good points all around! I agree with you, too. I always thought my art was mediocre, but it wasn’t so bad… now I have so many years of catchup to do because I didn’t believe I was good enough! No more! I’ll keep trying. 🙂

    • TRISTA says:

      That’s it–years of catching up; I think that’s part of what motivates me to keep going now. I feel like I’m getting close to a creative “fitness level” I’ve been at before but then quit. I’m curious to see what happens next.

  4. hilarymb says:

    Hiya .. I can’t draw for toffee – but I think you make a good point – constant dedication for that short period will see us through, sometimes it may take a little longer – but we can succeed with perseverance and a willingness to do what it takes ..

    Cheers and enjoy the A-Z – Hilary

  5. heatherseattle says:

    This is so beautifully put – i love the image of a quadrant of your brain getting a puff of oxygen. This sums up perfectly why I don’t get going on so many creative projects. i think I will print this and put in the appropriate place as a reminder! thanks for putting into words what was in the back of my brain but not fully understood! 🙂 and ps – i LOVE EcoCatLady’s comment! I’ve never thought of it that way and i think you (EcoCatLady) are spot on!

  6. I agree, celebrate! But not with too much of the hard stuff or you’ll be walking with baby steps again! Thanks for dropping by my little story yesterday, hope to see you again.

  7. Rose L. says:

    I think of the changes and challenges I have faced since my husband died as very challenging. After 37 years with him, these are my baby steps into a “new” life. I have had to learn new things, do things he always took care of and face challenges. Baby steps.
    I think in almost any new venture we undertake, we start slowly and gain stride as we develop kills, etc. Nothing ever happens over night.

    • TRISTA says:

      And you know what, Rose? From my perspective reading your blog and seeing you occasionally in person, your current “baby steps” look beautiful and inspiring to me. I love, love, love photos of your new home and stories of how you’re crafting a new life. They feel like baby steps to you, but maybe our baby steps look different to others?

  8. Tarkabarka says:

    I’m kind of scared of going back to look at my baby steps… They were very early steps. It would probably be hilarious to read them now, though 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

  9. Pingback: #AtoZChallenge 2015 REFLECTIONS | All But The Kitchen Sink

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