Let your work marinade

Did you ever notice how a project you’ve been working on often looks full of mistakes right as you’re finishing it? Then you put it away to dry, or clear the table for the night. Then, the next morning, the same piece suddenly looks better!

Watercolor that develops the coolest unexpected textures once it dries. They are often unpredictable, and can make the painting truly special. Our brain does something similar once we stop looking at our own work for a while :D

We often focus on the mistakes first

What happens is actually a common behavior pattern. You’re not the only one doing this. We all tend to focus tightly on the details when we’re in a state of flow, working on an art piece or a design, for example. With all the focus on the details, we no longer see the big picture. And because of a natural tendency to focus on the negative, even when there’s many positive signals, we can’t help but focus in on the little details that didn’t work, instead of the big picture that’s pretty okay. Focusing on the negatives is a survival skill that came in handy when our ancestors needed to watch out for predators, but can be problematic if we let it happen to our creative process.

A series of watercolor sketches. I did not like either of them right after I finished, but by the next day, the second and fourth attempt stood out as more successful, and even... kind of okay looking!

To refocus, separate making and evaluating.

Getting To Yes, a classic book on business negotiations, suggests a separation between the process of “opening up” - inventing the options and deciding among them. In a negotiation, if both processes happen at the same time, potentially useful ideas will be lost because the participants will be reluctant to express them, out of fear that whatever they bring up in the initial ideation sessions might be the final accepted answer. To get around this reluctance, the book recommends splitting the two processes. If we separate the “opening up” of options and the evaluation, when we decide among the options and agree to something, we are no longer afraid to freely propose different options in the first place.

Several sketches of dogs. I kept going even though my subjects moved a lot. And because I relaxed a bit, I was able to get more spontaneous sketches, rather than stiffer detailed ones.

The same principle can work for creative projects. If we try to evaluate our work at the same time as we make is, we’re in danger of stopping too early. Just like evaluating too early in the ideation process may prevent the negotiating parties from arriving at an unexpected, mutually beneficial solution - stopping to evaluate your own work too early will block you from trying the risky, cool things.

Keep going.

Maria Matveevafifth-9