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.