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Is perfectionism bitch-slapping your creativity?

Perfectionism beating up your creativity
Check out this scenario: While noodling on your guitar one afternoon you come up with a new riff. Your first reaction is “Wow, this might be a cool idea for a new song!”

But then, as if it were a reflex, your inner voice begins hurling an incessant barrage of criticism and doubt:

  • Is this idea really any good?
  • It sounds a bit like [insert song here]…is it too derivative?
  • Crap! I can’t be derivative…..Must! Be! ORIGINAL!
  • Anyway, it’s just a little riff — how will I ever write all the other parts for the rest of the song?
  • Oh man, and now I’ll have to program some drums — EWWW! It always takes me forever to get the drums right.
  • And you know, it’s nowhere near as good as [insert favorite epic masterpiece of musical brilliance]. I’ll never write a song even close to as good as THAT.
  • Even if I do get this song finished, will anyone even like it enough to listen more than once?
  • How am I going to react to the inevitable criticisms?
  • I don’t know…people probably won’t like it. I know it shouldn’t matter, but…
  • Heck, even if people say they like it, they’re probably just being polite….

*sigh*

After a few minutes of this self-inflicted abuse, you feel so overwhelmed by obstacles and doubt that you decide your riff isn’t good enough to warrant investing all that effort. You abandon the idea of crafting it into a new song, and go back to aimlessly noodling the same old licks while surfing the net hoping for “inspiration.” But any enjoyment you might have had is spoiled by a nagging feeling that you really SHOULD be doing something more productive…

Does this sound familiar to you? What the heck is this and why does it happen?

Your creativity, your inner muse, has been bitch-slapped into submission by your critical inner voice, robbing you of the opportunity to create something of real value — a new song. Widdly, bedroom “Youtube shredders” are as common as mullets at a Nascar event; but guitarists who write songs, complete projects, and consistently get their creative work out the door are far fewer. You know this. But why is it so hard to squelch your inner critic and just DO something?

The curse of perfectionism

It could be that — even if you are far from “perfect” — you are a perfectionist. You desperately want to feel creative and inspired, but your creativity is as good as paralyzed by the pressure and demands you put on yourself.

I’m intimately familiar with the tyranny of perfectionism. In fact, when it comes to producing creative output, the multi-headed hydra of perfectionism, self-doubt, and knee-jerk self-criticism is my worst enemy.

Fortunately, now that I recognize the enemy for what it is, I’m on a mission to kick its whiny butt. But that means effecting a dramatic change in habitual thought patterns that have had decades to entrench themselves — you could even say I’ve practiced them to perfection! I don’t expect changing to be easy, but “more of the same” just ain’t gonna cut it this time. (It rarely does.)

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing here about what I learn and the methods I use to make negativity and perfectionism my bitches, in the hope that others can benefit (and because the accountability of announcing goals publicly is an industrial-strength motivator). But don’t worry — I’ll be focusing on tools and knowledge you can try for yourself rather than subjecting you to reams of self-absorbed “navel contemplation.”

And I promise, there won’t ever, EVER be any New-Age BS about learning to nurture your inner child. :roll:

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21 Comments »

+ Comment by Kristof
2007-07-23 13:01:21

And of course, someone has to point out …

- That was wonderful!
- Bravo!
- I loved it!
- That was great!
- Well, it was pretty good.
- Well, It wasn’t bad.
- There were parts that weren’t pretty good, though.
- It could’ve been a lot better.
- I didn’t really like it.
- It was pretty terrible.
- It was bad.
- It was awful!
- Terrible! Eh, boo!

Anyway: I recognize that, including the drumpart which actually has become a lot easier since I got my hands on a copy of “Drumkit From Hell” which has a lot of nice basic drum patterns on board. Just add cymbals and the occasional off-beat snare and you’re set!

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-23 13:58:42

Good one, Kristof.

I’ve never had luck with pre-programmed drum patterns. They never have the beat that I want, so I always end up doing it myself anyway. But based on your recommendation, I’ll look into DFH.

+ Comment by Kristof
2007-07-23 15:05:57

DFH doesn’t have all the chops you’d want, but it’s got great basic rhythms - especially the DFH kit. Aside from the very good drum samples, it has all those “special” drum loops you’d want in a more metal oriented song like 16ths double bass backbeat and 16ths triplets beats. Enough to get you started. As I said, you’ll still have to add your very own flavour and add the right accents but it’s a good start. Especially a good start if you want to get the feel for a song while recording instead of the boring and sometimes misleading “plink ploink ploink ploink” or even worse “plinploinploinploinploinploinploinploin”

Also, that whole thing is of course the hugely cult “Statler & Waldorf”, also famous for quote such as “I love French Singing - I love French Fries - I don’t get it! - Of course, you didn’t order any” …

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-24 01:11:03

Thanks Kristof. I’ll definitely check it out. My brain seems to be working well enough again to handle climbing up a new learning curve…

 
 
 
 
+ Comment by Stephen H
2007-07-23 21:18:13

Lori…
…have you ever considered becoming a “Cognitive Behavioural Therapist ?!”

1:
“your inner voice begins hurling an incessant barrage of criticism and doubt:”
2:
“After a few minutes of this self-inflicted abuse, you feel so overwhelmed by obstacles and doubt that you decide your riff isn’t good enough to warrant investing all that effort.”
3:
“Your creativity, your inner muse, has been bitch-slapped into submission by your critical inner voice, robbing you of the opportunity to create something of real value - a new song. robbing you of the opportunity to create something of real value”
4:
“It could be that — even if you are far from “perfect” — you are a perfectionist. You desperately want to feel creative and inspired, but your creativity is as good as paralyzed by the pressure and demands you put on yourself.”
-
“I’m intimately familiar with the tyranny of perfectionism. In fact, when it comes to producing creative output, the multi-headed hydra of perfectionism, self-doubt, and knee-jerk self-criticism is my worst enemy.”

OMG ?!
I’m reading a (shockingly astute) description of my very own - (way above n’ beyond) - destructive anxieties n’ thought patterns !

Perfectionism ?!
If I think what I’m about to (try to) do, won’t be “perfect” - then I simply won’t attempt to do it ! - This is not only guitar playing - it is everything ! (n’ I DO mean) EVERYTHING !

I believe it’s very difficult (so I shan’t bother - lol !) to try and explain to people, just how painful a self induced “bitch-slapping” is…
…more often than not, people consider it to be “laziness !” - and just an excuse to avoid doing things, that (in their eyes) should be done - start to finish !

In this respect, lies yet a further issue - I can perceive the beginning of a project (and) the completion of a project…
…notice anything missing ?! Yes ! - The middle of the project !! - Why ? Because here’s where the “quest for The Holy Grail” of perfection, can lead you in a VERY wrong “direction !”

Therefore, the anticipation of “becoming lost” (AKA “imperfection”) - can easily concern you SO much, that, y’ know…
…”Hey - I shan’t even contemplate the idea any further !”

Now then, where are we ? - “SMACK !” - “bitch slapped” ! - “You can rely on yourself to let you down !” - (Again !) - The result ?! (If y’ can call it that ?!)…
…NOTHING ! - Nothing gets done !!

Lori, you’ve “brought to light” a subject/topic that is almost unrealised ! - I applaud you ! - A standing ovation in fact ! Being someone that’s had/is having “CBT”…
…you are SPOT ON m’ dear ! I shall follow this “Negativity” - “Perfection” versus “Creativity” with great interest !

May I get off the couch now, Miss Linstruth ?!

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-24 01:26:43

Glad you liked the article, Stephen. I agree with you: the procrastination that stems from perfectionism is soooo not laziness. There’s a difference between putting off an odious task (like ironing — ugh!) and not taking opportunities that come your way because you’re afraid of failure (i.e., imperfection).

I’m not a psychologist (nor do I play one on the internet, haha) but I’ve studied it on the undergrad level and do a lot of reading about the bits that interest me. Since my brain started working again a few weeks ago I’ve been making up for lost time, reading tons of great books. Some of what I’ve read has been so “revolutionary” for me that it seems a crime not to share the good parts.

 
 
+ Comment by Matthew Hutchinson
2007-07-24 01:40:05

My favorite author, Clive Barker, once said, “There’s no such thing as Writer’s Block - just too much self-editing before putting pen to paper.”

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-24 16:53:48

That’s an awesome quote, Matthew. Easily adapted to guitar playing: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block - just too much self-editing before putting fingers on strings.”

 
 
+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-07-24 07:15:13

Hi Lori and everyone,

After reading that post,i made a little 45 seconds ditty called “yet another”,it’s to be continued thought.It can be heard on “my” Myspace.
Please forgive the short bit of vocals,as i was trying a new mic.

For the drums,i used Reason Drum Kits 2.0 which is really cool because of the velocity.I just have to much fun programming,as realistic as i can,drum rolls.The demo version is being used in “metal samples” on the first idea.

I rarely do have to force myself to do music.I program and/or compose and/or pratice my instruments almost all the time when i’m home.
Still,it’s pretty nice to have an extra boost from your blog,Lori.

What i REALLY have to work on is to keep my appartment in better order…(Oh!Odious tasks!)

Type to you later!

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-24 16:55:33

I envy you, Jomaheux. Not only is it hard for me to sit down to do anything really productive, I am totally shy about letting other people hear my works in progress. Heck, I even have a hard time promoting the stuff that’s finished…go figure!

+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-07-25 00:40:05

I have to tell you thought,that when i got my first computer(PC laptop)in Spring 2005,i wasn’t aware at all of any of the softwares designed to make music.

I started doing a bunch of experiments to learn the programs.
Prior to that,i would watch tv and widdle at the same time,but almost never came up with ideas.

Since i’m single,don’t have much to take care and not a gamer,those programs became kind of my “Playstation” and the tv got gradually neglected and is now,most of the time,turned off.

Speaking of being envious,i’m quite overwhelmed by your computer/internet knowledge,and anybody who keeps his place in order is giving an example that i have yet to follow…

 
 
 
+ Comment by CapnZilog
2007-07-24 11:53:39

Bravo. What we all need, and I’m expecting this to be covered thoroughly in the second installment, is FREEDOM TO SUCK. Nothing shuts off the creativity tap more than worrying about quality too early in the game.

So, everybody repeat…

I SUCK!
AND I DON’T CARE IF YOU KNOW I SUCK!
BECAUSE IF YOU KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS LOW YOU WON’T BE DISAPPOINTED!
NOW GET THE F*CK OUTTA HERE AND LET ME CREATE IN SHAMELESS, UNCENSORED PRIVATE SUCKTITUDE!

At which point, you look around and find a whole heapin’ plateful of interesting bits just waiting to be polished into musical gems o’ musical goodness. At least that’s how it usually seems to work. We all need FREEDOM TO SUCK in order to free us from the bondage of our own expectations and Just Create. ™

-djh

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-24 16:52:07

Hear hear! I’m not sure if it will be in the next installment, but “freedom to suck” (heck, make that freedom to be less than absolutely brilliant) is definitely on the agenda.

 
+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-07-25 00:52:54

I agree.I also admit that i took a deep breath before sending my first comment about that topic.

 
 
+ Comment by woxnerw
2007-07-29 14:49:32

It’s gonna be tough to build on that comment.
I’ve recognized that walking and chewing gum is all but gone these days. I’ve forgotten what comes first anymore. I don’t think it’s the music anymore. So, It’’s gotta be the words.. There ain’t no riffs to music anymore. I don’t think.. Or, Something..

 
+ Comment by woxnerw
2007-07-29 15:21:04

Hey:
I sent off a reply to that comment/blog, while I was over there..

You know an hour from now my reply might be quite different.. OR.. an hour before..

Anyway, after you push the “send reply/comment” button it’s all too late.. It goes on forever.. You can’t take it back.. I’m not so sure if it even got published.. Is a reply to those blogs supposed to be instant?

The more I think about it… the more I think it’s what’s got me to this “Tracker’s Block”.. ?

Bill..

[EDIT]
That’s what I said on another message board before I posted it here, and after i decided to post the same comment here.. :guitar: :???:

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-29 16:26:31

Woxnerw, because of the horrible comment spam here, everyone’s first comment is held for moderation. Now that I’ve approved your comments, you will be able to reply instantly (as long as you post with the same email and name). Unless you misbehave and force me to put you in the naughty corner, that is.

I have tried to add an “edit comment” function for readers here, but the current plugins are not compatible with Brian’s threaded comments. I tried hacking it :geek: but it was too complicated for me to figure out in 30 minutes. I’ll try again one day when I have plenty of time and have learned more php.

 
 
+ Comment by William Oxner
2007-07-31 19:17:59

Hi Lorinator:
Thank you for letting my posts/reply/comments to your blog, stand.. I very seldom reply with comments, like this, to the Internet .. But my “Tracker’s Block” has been hurting my “Creativity”.. OR… Is it the other way around?? :???: ?

Bill..

 
+ Comment by Rory
2007-08-02 17:07:09

I think I get this problem of perfectionism in all aspects of life. Has anyone else found that ‘riffer’s block’ isn’t exclusive to their creativity, but to other tasks on our to-do-(but-can’t-be-bothered) list? And that’s another thing, are we sometimes seeing our riffs and creations as ‘tasks’? Every one of my guitar heroes loves the instrument and their craft to-death and possibly beyond (here’s hoping!) and when I read their interviews, they are usually very grateful that they can make music their living. It may be their business, it may take work, but it never comes across as a task. That’s the zone I want to be playing in.

Here’s what I do. I’m a bad guitarist. To me that means I just don’t pick it up enough, even though I love it more than is healthy for a wooden object to be loved. So while I’m doing the loathsome things on the list I mentioned, I’m often daydreaming of - you guessed it - playing guitar. So riffs pop into my head, but sometimes I’ll be singing them in my mind for days, weeks, months, or even years. If they’re good enough they’ll stick. If I worry about forgetting them I sing them into a mic, or even use the record function on my mobile phone. The riffs have so much time to ferment and grow, from fiendish spectres to evil leviathans, that when I get around to playing them, they are mostly done.

Another thing I pick up from interviews is that my heroes’ best songs are the ones that just flowed when it came to writing them. If I love a riff I’ll spend time on it. If it’s too hard, or I’ve really gotta think about how it’ll work, it just hasn’t fully fermented yet.

Also, when I play, I’ll be honest, I’m imagining myself doing my very own thing in front of people who are on my musical wavelength. All musicians borrow from eachother, so I don’t care if I sound like the stuff I like, isn’t that partly the point? The most important thing to me is that when I’m playing I get a buzz from what I’m churning out, and that I’m tailoring every note to my number one fan - myself.

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-08-02 23:31:54

Interesting that you mention procrastination, Rory, because for me that’s the worst effect of perfectionist tendencies. I suppose it’s natural to put of boring crap that you really don’t want to do, but when you find that the standards you hold yourself to make you put off working things that (theoretically, anyway) should be enjoyable…

I’ll be writing quite a bit about perfectionism and procrastination, because they are intimately related and play such a huge role in many aspects of life, not just guitar playing.

 
 
+ Comment by Heather
2007-08-07 17:47:28

I can so relate to this post. Though not in terms of my guitar playing but in terms of my short story writing. I always want to perfect every single sentence that I don’t let the story flow as well as it should. It’s really hard to turn that inner Virgo off. Half the time I try to trick it by writing in white font which doesn’t allow me to see what I’m writing. Anyway, I’ll stop rambling on now :)

 
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