The First Thing You Make Will be Terrible--and That's Okay

The First Thing You Make Will be Terrible--and That's Okay

Probably the hardest part of pursuing a creative endeavor is the very first step: starting. Putting pen to paper. Designing that first dress. Writing that first business plan.

It takes a certain type of bravery and optimism to take that deep breathe, and turn away from the easy, well-lit, crowded street you’ve been biking down, and instead take an uncertain gulp and head toward that dark, one-flickering-horror-film-lamp-post alley on foot instead. Because that’s what we’re doing when we set out on the cliché road less traveled, right?

We're purposefully subjecting ourselves to years of rejection, work, and doubt. Basically, we’re taking a big risk.

But let’s say you’re past that. Let’s say you took that first step into the alley, and are starting to create your first project. Let me tell you something that will make you want to ask is it too late to turn back around to that nice, safe street?

The first thing you make will probably be terrible.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re flipping your hair to the side, rolling your eyes, and standing up very straight in your desk chair—well, Alex, that might be your experience but my first idea is amazing and my execution will be even better, so this doesn’t apply to me. Before you scroll away, feeling very confident in yourself, let me add to my sentence: The first thing you make will probably be terrible—and that’s a good thing.

Stay with me. You know already, from life experience, that you learn way more from your failures than your successes, right? So, whenever you start something new, assume you will fail a lot. Not on purpose. Not because you want to. But because it’s as much a part of the journey as the security line and an inconsiderate seat-mate are a part of flying to that new exciting destination. As terrible as airports are, we go because getting to that beautiful resort is worth it, right?

The first book I wrote was bad. So bad, it received hundreds of rejections, and feedback as straightforward as “this is nowhere near ready for publication.” Ouch. Unfortunately, I had to wait until my fifth novel to receive my book deal—but, hopefully, by realizing early on that each first work is a learning experience, you’ll save yourself years of trying to fix a project that should probably be abandoned instead.

If you’re thinking this lesson only applies to the book industry, think again. The first demo (which, honestly, I wouldn’t even call it that) I made for my music career was also terrible. I made it on my computer, not knowing how to use Garage Band. It was unedited, and didn’t even have a hint of background music. It was the first iteration of a song that would take months and months to complete—and would turn out 100 times better than the original.

I hope you see where I’m going with this. The first thing you make on this crazy, exciting journey will be terrible. But that doesn’t mean you should give up—it just means you have a ways to go until it’s ready. Be patient—don’t sent that first draft to anyone important (seriously, that’s one good way to give a bad first impression to industry insiders). Fix it. Edit it. Don’t be afraid to tweak it.

One day, you’ll look back at that first version, wince, and say oh, jeez, I can’t believe I thought that was so good! What was I thinking? But, again, that’s a good thing. It means you grew—and that you’re so much better than you were when you started.

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