A question many creatives often ask me is: “Is my work good enough? Do I have what it takes to be an author, or painter, or musician, or dancer, or teacher, or innovator?”
Such questions are well-intended, no doubt. Those who ask are truly questioning the value of their writing, of their artwork, of their ability to create something worthwhile.
But they’re asking the wrong questions.
For example, recently I was asked: “How do you know whether someone is worthy of being an author or not?“”
On the face of it, that’s a silly question. Anyone can be an author if they have the ability to write words that convey a story or provide meaning.
Yet, at the heart of that question is another that we – as creatives – all ask: Am I good enough to make work that matters?
And really that’s all we want to do as creatives: be able to solve problems, think outside the box, put words onto the paper, paint on the canvas, ideas onto the world. All in hopes of influencing something or someone, establishing ourselves as a creative that does good work.
But are we good enough to do those things? Who’s to say?
How do you know if someone is capable of writing a successful novel, or composing a historical piece? How do you know when you’re capable of doing worthwhile creative work? Silly questions, yes, but if we can’t do what we absolutely love to do, what good are we anyway?
One thing about creative work is that, at any level, it’s entirely subjective.
Quality is a hard thing to describe, let alone determine on any sort of tangible scale. Particularly when it comes to creative work. So how do we determine whether we’ve got the right chops if we can’t grade it accordingly?
Take, for example, the bold paintings of the French artist Yves Klein. It was the early 1940s when Klein began to first explore creative art.
In the 1950s Klein first showcased his unusual artwork in a show dedicated to a series of monochromatic paintings he had worked on over the previous ten or so years. This initial series of artwork featured large canvased prints of – get this – solid colors.
Imagine a canvas with a single color painted onto it. That’s what Klein had on display.
Initial reaction to the work was mixed, as you can imagine. People tried to “get” the artwork and figure out what the paintings would display when combined together, like a giant mosaic. But Klein protested to those reviews: the paintings were not part of some elaborate, broken and scattered mosaic.
Instead, the pieces were each uniquely made to stand alone, apart, as works of art themselves and not as part of a collection.
Even art collectors at the time were confused by this. Here they had canvases which were simply painted with solid colors! Nothing about the works appeared to be evidence that Klein would be a Picasso or Monet.
If you were to ask Klein then whether or not he questioned his ability to create amazing works of art, I have no doubt his answer would be yes. But had he completely failed in his attempt to be an artist? Quite the opposite.
One such painting of his, titled: “Yves Klein, IKB 191,” was the result of a new color blending method that produced a vivid, captivating tone of blue. So unique was the color that it later became an recognized paint color, and the painting itself sold for some figure above one million dollars years later.
Klein later went on to create more stunning works of art, including that of the invisible variety. That’s right: Klein sold artwork that could not be seen, let alone held.
Who could have predicted that a man who painted solid colors onto canvases or who put on exhibits of invisible artwork could have possibly shaken up the art world?
The defining thing about Yves Klein was that he did the work and shared it with the world. That’s it.
Yes, like Klein, it takes years of practice and education to perfect the basics of art (Yves had, you’ll recall, learned to mix swatches in just the right way to create the stunning Yves Klein IKB blue), but that’s not what makes the artist.
Similarly: anyone can write. It’s the writer who does the work, who produces the novel and shares it with the world, who makes strides towards becoming a true author though. It’s not as though authors are magically born and begin publishing their first great works.
The defining attribute all of the real creatives share is their willingness to do the work. That’s it!
It took me a long time to understand this very important fact about creative work.
You don’t even really need to be all that good to be a true creative: an author, or writer, or inventor, or whatever. All you need is to be willing to show up, make mistakes, find what works for you and what doesn’t, then get it out there into the world.
Go do the work. Share it. Find the people who will enjoy it or find it inspiring or helpful.
It may take you a while to start making work that feels right to you, but that’s a price we have to pay in order to become real authors, artists, and creative professionals.
Those who are merely pretending to be great creatives are the ones who give-up on the process before they’ve had a chance to see what they’re capable of.
I’ll close with this quote from Ira Glass on the value of simply sticking with what you want to do, whether it’s writing or design, photography, dance, music, or just being creative:
“For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this…the most important thing you can do is: do a lot of work… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
So you want to be an author but not sure if you’ve got what it takes? You do, but that’s not going to be enough. Start writing, and don’t stop.