Wreck it

You can't wreck this. Let's get it going. Right now, today.

Every so often in the day-to-day buzz of the workshop, someone (often me, myself, and I) encounters the Big Freeze. They’re moving along in what they’re building, repairing, writing, drawing and then suddenly they can barely move. Their tools seem magnetically repelled from the object of their craft, and the look on their face says it all: “I’m not done, but I don’t want to wreck this by taking the next step and making a mistake. I’m frozen.

Wreck. It's a harsh word with harsh connotations. Destroyed, unsalvagable, spoiled completely, destined for the trash pile. Broken up, shattered, irreparable. A ruinous mistake. It brings up images of someone sadly throwing their broken pottery in the bin.

Worrying about whether or not you're going to "wreck" something will stop you in your tracks, or stop you from ever starting. The first secret is: you will wreck it in the process of developing it. Creativity is messy—ask anyone who has renovated a kitchen. As you get one part in order, other parts fall into disarray as a side effect, and its your job to balance all of the shifting forces. It’s a risk every time you pick up the hammer or brush. Yes, a mistake might happen. Yes, something might fall apart that was previously holding together as a whole. Yes, two steps forward in one area might cause a step backward in another.

However, the second secret is: most things are more repairable and more malleable than we assume. In most creative processes, there are ways of working in which “mistakes” aren’t a permanent end and can be reworked at each step. In a creative process, everything is in flux all the time, sometimes moving toward stability and sometimes moving toward instability, but these states aren’t permanent. The biggest mistake is holding yourself back from taking the next step your intuition tells you is necessary to develop the whole out of fear of destabilizing other areas.

And, the things we make aren’t quite as precious as we assume. The real precious thing is our ability to keep making more and keep reshaping and repairing what is already there. Each crafted object might be a one-of-a-kind special thing, but it deserves your dedication to its dynamically emerging life rather than its static preservation.

Rather than seeing items as precious, irreplacable, and potentially ruined by the smallest imperfection, see them as malleable, abundantly renewable, repairable, more alive as a result of their candid roughness (Wholeness includes roughness). Acknowledge your ability to bring the damaged and unstable back into stability and wholeness—that's what creativity is. In the middle of creative shaping, there is the potential to bring everything back into harmony, and there’s plenty of time and material for you to work with. Nothing is ruinable. Nothing is irrepairable. Nothing is permanent. It's not as serious as that. So, get in there and wreck it.

You don't have to worry about wrecking it.

You want to avoid not doing something because you think it will wreck something else.

You can't wreck this. Let's get it going. Right now, today.

–Things John Gordon says while we're painting


Also, please enjoy this five minutes of things being slowly smushed:


This post is adapted from my draft notes on Practicing Creativity.