So sometimes I like to watch YouTube videos that make me angry. This usually happens at ungodly hours of the morning/night in a sleepy haze, and I usually regret them the next morning. The variety of these videos changes as time goes on, but recently the genre of video I find myself drifting toward is the “criticize Original Characters/Other People’s Art”-variety.
We’re 26 weeks into the year. Doing my math correctly, this is the perfect mid-point of the year, weeks-wise. I’m halfway through my promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I would write one blog post per week.
So let’s take stock. Where are we? How has Absoludicrous grown since I made my pledge on January 1st of this year? What have I done? What have I accomplished?
Well, I can say that this blog has gotten a lot more views than I expected. I started this not really thinking anyone would read it besides people I know in real life. While that still remains the majority of the views, I do get a constant trickle of views from people all around the world. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know me in real life – thank you so much. You exceed my expectations just by giving this blog a glance.
Not to say my known viewers aren’t appreciated – of course you are – you’re just more or less expected. I know a lot of really kind people who, against the odds, support me in so many ways and your support is something I count on.
Don’t be alarmed by the title of this blog post. This isn’t the end, far from it if I can help it. But it is something I wanted to talk about. I want to talk about the end. Specifically, the end of creative projects.
This blog is a creative project. I am not doing it for a grade or monetary gain. I do it because it gives me a weekly creative outlet. And you know what? On my end, it’s been a smashing success. It’s kept me writing more consistently than anything I’ve ever done, and ya’ll seem to enjoy it so there’s no losses anywhere.
It’s this blog, however, that caused me to make a real connection to a video I watched recently made by one of my favorite Youtubers ever, Dan O. of Folding Ideas.
It’s kind of a long video (but really good), so I’ll summarize. In it, Dan is asked on his stream how best to find motivation for finishing creative projects. Dan speaks frankly on a number of topics regarding motivation and creativity but ultimately comes to one overarching conclusion – finish your work.
I know it sounds useless answering the question of “How do I finish my work?” with “Finish your work,” but honestly, it’s astoundingly good advise. Creative work is unique in the fact that it is never really done. There is always a way to improve. There’s always a few more tweaks to be done, a few more edits, and some chopping and skewing to make it just perfect.
And that’s noble, in a way. The idea that something is never quite done, and so the artist must work tirelessly forever and ever to perfect it, hoping for that one day that it’s flawless and beautiful and everyone who sees it or hears it is brought to their knees.
The reality, though, is that if you were to work on something until it is perfect, until it is done, you will never finish. As I said, there’s always something, some improvement. And so Dan advises self-imposed deadlines. He speaks about giving himself a week to finish a project and then letting it go at the end of that week, regardless of where it is in its production.
And watching this video, I found myself really resonating with this message. I’m a perfectionist. I hate when anything I do is less than great. I want all my writings to be showstoppers, to be hits, and in the past that’s bit me in the butt. When I was younger I was a serial project-starter, but I almost never finished anything. I would start something, bright and motivated, but by the end of the arduous process of trying to make it perfect, I would lose interest, or, alternatively, I would just keep it on a backburner, for a rainy day. Locked in creative purgatory, forever and ever.
There were only a handful of projects I actually finished and all of them were finished because of deadlines. NaNoWriMo was the big one. The self-imposed deadline of 50,000 words by the end of the month was the first thing that ever spurred me to finish anything. And beyond that… is this blog.
This blog is a series of self-imposed deadlines. If I fail to post something every single Sunday, nothing really happens. I don’t lose out on a prize or reward, I’m not physically punished. The world continues to turn. Yet, these deadlines still exist… emotionally. Mentally. Every week I post something new, or else I let myself and anyone who wanted to read that post down.
And even more helpful, the deadlines give me a reason to stop working. To declare something finished. I can’t tell you the number of weeks that I despised the post that finally came out on Sunday. 99% of the time, the post that’s in my head is a million times better than the post that eventually gets written, and yet my deadline forces me to stop tweaking in search of that perfect ideal and post it anyway.
And you know what? That’s okay. Because instead of me working and working and working to perfect one post that may or may not ever come out, I now have over 26 posts – some of which I’m really proud of – that are here for everyone to see. 26 posts in the hand are better than a million in the… bush, I guess?
And how do I find the motivation? I don’t, I guess. As sad as that sounds, the motivation is the deadline looming at the end of the week. As much as I wish I could be fueled only by pure-hearted love of writing and chutzpah, it’s the deadline that gets things done for me. It’s the deadline that has caused this blog to exist and keep running week after week. It’s how I keep the motor running.
These 26 weeks have been a blast. I’m not even close to being done yet, so stick around for 26 more and beyond.
I recently stumbled upon a YouTube series that, I’m gonna be honest, kind of made me upset. I’m not gonna name any names or talk about any specifics because I don’t really want this to sound like I want people to go and send this guy hate, but I’m sure you could probably find him just based on what I talk about here. Just don’t be dumb, I guess is all I’m saying.
But anyway, the series involves this guy browsing Deviantart and “critiquing” the fanart and Original Character (OC) art he finds there. He presents it as a service, a “what not to do” of sorts for creating art and OCs.
The points he makes are legitimate, I guess, but the biggest problem I have with it is it all seems way too obvious. It seems like he picks the art that is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel rainbow pastel Sonic OCs done by young people. The critique he gives is repetitive and completely useless and unhelpful for anyone old enough to be watching his channel. Plus, even if the person watching was young enough to not be able to guess the obvious flaws he finds, he offers no real alternatives or suggestions to improve.
Lemme give you an example.
Here’s a screenshot of one of the pieces this guy critiques (with all identifying names blocked out, of course). To you and to me, this character is obviously not a very well designed character. The colors are vibrant and clashing, the body parts are a mishmash of different ideas with no real purpose, and overall too much is going on to get any sort of clear image of what this character is meant to be. Tack on the obvious use of MS Paint and the subject matter of a Sonic OC and you’ve got yourself the most textbook “twelve-year-old who has just figured out how the internet works tries to create their own **super cool** character and falls flat” ever.
It’s so easy to criticize this piece of art because everything wrong with it is glaringly obvious. Even someone not familiar with internet culture, specifically Deviantart culture, would probably be able to tell that this is not a picture of a “good”, fully realized character.
But you know what? That doesn’t matter. At all.
I speak as someone who was that twelve-year-old when I say this, while kind of embarrassing and definitely not too fun to look at, this kind of terrible art is ultimately a good thing. So this kind of critique is not only so obvious that it’s completely useless, it is harmful and impedes a very natural creative process.
I guarantee you, nobody in the history of the universe sat down to create their very first character, their very first story, their very first piece of art, and made a masterpiece. There’s this myth that pervades in a lot of creative circles that artists and writers and musicians and the like are what they are because of some natural talent or affinity for their craft. That’s… just not true.
Sure, there are people out there who are naturally gifted, but natural talent alone can’t carry anyone to success. There’s a correlation between natural talent and success (probably because having an affinity for something makes it more fun and therefore a motivator to practice that something more), but it doesn’t directly cause it.
For my own personal example, I am a writer. But that’s not really because I was born with a pen in my hand (or keyboard, preferably), it’s because I write… a lot. Every day, really. This blog, poetry, prose… I write constantly.
And the reason why I write so much is because when I was young I idolized authors and I wanted to be one, so I sat down and I wrote. I wrote garbage.
The very first novel I ever wrote was plotless hogwash, a fanfiction of a show I was really into at the time with the names changed. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story did nothing and went nowhere. And yet, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it if I had to go back.
Why? Well, because, at the time, that awful, horrible novel was something I was really proud of. It was an accomplishment. It was written in a month for NaNoWriMo, it was 50,000 words long, and I really poured my heart and soul into it. I loved those flat characters. I desperately wanted to tell that uninteresting story. It was my first foray into writing for the fun of it, writing because I loved it, writing not because I thought I was great at it, but because it was something that spoke to me.
It was bad, but it inspired me to keep going, to keep improving. It showed me that I was capable of making myself into one of those authors I looked up to. It’s a big reason of why I’m here today, writing this blog, writing every day. It’s the reason I’m… admittedly, pretty good at this whole writing thing.
So that’s why when I see people try and put down these young creators for making less-than-perfect art, it makes me really sad. I was really lucky to be surrounded by an accepting, loving community of people both online and offline who celebrated the art I created, even when it was bad. Now that I’m older I understand what made those early writings so terrible, and I’m mature enough (mostly) to take critique and use it to improve. But when I was younger and filled with idealism and passion, hearing the kind of snide remarks this youtuber makes would have destroyed me. I was just figuring out that creativity was possible for me, so I was miles away from understanding that I could also work to improve the things I made. I would have taken these condescending statements as unchangeable fact, and I would have given up.
So, let young creators make these mistakes. Let them create flat, pastel rainbow vomit characters and MS Paint Sonic OCs. Let them create two-dimensional worlds that exist only in the space of one month and 50,000 words. Because someday those creators will grow up, and they’ll understand just fine that they weren’t born gifted. But with the proper support and encouragement, they’ll become so.