Art of the Song

Creativity: Taking the Bad with the Good

Inferior work is part of the package of creative process.

By Eric Maisel, PhD | Posted 8/15/07 | Updated 5/8/23

In order to create, we must take the bad with the good. You are bound to write many bad paragraphs along with the good ones. That is the eternal law.

You can get rid of those bad paragraphs later but first you must write them. Otherwise you won't write anything.

If you try to write only the good paragraphs, you are three-quarters of the way toward paralysis. The name for this problem is "perfectionism." But people afflicted aren't striving to be perfect. They simply do not understand that the good requires the bad, that getting to the good is a process that includes mistakes and messes.

It doesn't seem to matter how many well-respected authors confess to needing twelve drafts to get their novel right or three years of false starts to get their stage play on solid footing.

Even when Nobel prize winners announce that their first three novels stank, still the millions of would-be writers listening to these remarks do not hear what's being said. They do not hear that a writer can't avoid the bad even if his or her life depended on it. They do not hear — that is, they deny — that they must take the bad with the good because the bad is part of the process.

If you want to understand the concept of "denial," just visit with a writer not writing his novel because "it isn't going well." Say to that writer, "Isn't the best plan to get a draft of your novel written, whether that draft is good, bad, or indifferent, and then see where you are?"

Just watch his reaction. He will demonstrate one textbook example or another of psychological defense. His unstated fear is that a bad draft will mean that he is a bad writer, that he is a phony, that he has no chance. It doesn't. It never has meant these things and it never will. A bad draft does not possess that meaning at all. But, sad to say, he thinks it does.

Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. Then no particular piece of inferior work is much of a blow. You just burn it and get on with your masterpiece.

©2007 Eric Maisel. All rights reserved.