I had a great idea after the Wild Wonder conference. Inspired by various talks, I decided I wanted to start capturing the colors where I live in a project called Local Color. I could practice mixing watercolors while focusing on native species and identifying the distinctive parts of my local landscape. I even started a long post about this project, all the sources that inspired it, and how I was going to do it.

Well, I started to write about how I was going to do it. Then I got stuck. Should I make small cards to collect my colors on or buy a special journal? How often should I go out? How long should the project last? What other rules should I have for myself? I know having guidelines can make it easier to do a creative project, but too many restrictions can turn what was supposed to be fun into a chore.

Faced with decisions I couldn’t make, I never got started. Except for having my eyes open for colors I might collect, I haven’t done a thing.

There are plenty of excuses for not starting, like the fact that the weather hasn’t been ideal. (It’s hard to get outside when ash is falling from the sky.) The real obstacle, however, is that I’m trying to figure out the very best way to do this project. I want it to be amazing, but until I start actually doing something, it’s not going to be anything at all.

I’m letting my fear of making a mistake hold me back. So the wise words I am embracing today are these:

I have heard that an eagle misses seventy percent of its strikes. Why should I expect to do better?

Sophy Burnham, For Writers Only, p. 129

I can’t succeed if I’m not willing to fail. So I will shift my focus from what I will wind up with to what I want to be doing. I will start mixing colors, even if I have to match the sickly orange smoke-filled sky from inside the house, and stop worrying about the final product.

I will just start. And I will develop a method for collecting the colors as I go along, figuring everything out in the process of doing it. It won’t be perfect, but it will be done. And I’ll probably learn a lot along the way.

Does fear of making a mistake hold you back? How do you get past it to start a project?

11 thoughts on “Make Mistakes or Make Nothing”

  1. This is just what I needed to read today. I’m looking at four different notebooks, each with varying formats of notes, outlines, and rough drafts. How am I ever going to get this project into a single, organized system to make some actual progress? So here I go, willing to make mistskes or maybe even more of a mess before things “shape up.” Thanks Kit!

    1. So glad you found this helpful! I’m feeling pretty stuck on lots of fronts, so it’s something I really need to embrace. Fortunately, NaNoWriMo is coming. It’s one of the best things I know for getting things done without letting perfectionism hold you back.

  2. Thank you for this post! I definitely struggle with being so afraid of making mistakes I never start writing. I need to keep reminding myself that errors are part of every learning process.

    1. I found it really helpful to give myself permission to write the worst stuff ever. Then I could just write and worry about fixing it later. Also, if you haven’t read it, For Writers Only is a wonderful book on the creative process. Probably out of print but worth looking for.

  3. This reminds me of this “fail harder” video over on Youtube that my awesome bicycle spin teacher pointed us to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEVd0QMjCc8 Somehow we think that failing is wrong or bad or unexpected. I often need to remind myself that “failing” is part of the learning curve, part of life. (Methinks I should now go deal with that silly hem edge on the sweater that I’m STILL not happy with … this will only be the 5th (?) time I’ve done that part of my sweater …)

    1. I love the video! Such an important idea and one that gets lost when people get more interested in being perfect than improving. I also came across another suggestion I’m hoping to use. Instead of thinking about doing anything perfectly, shoot for 70%. It might be easier if I allow for a margin of error.

  4. If you make things that “speak to you”. Things that YOU love, it can’t be wrong. If it is your doodle and your color, it’s right. There is no knowing if “the crowd” will love or hate your work. You just have to do the work. Keep on trucking!

    1. All good points. My concern with this project is fear of regret, that I will get partway and decide I need to do something completely different. That the earlier opportunities are lost because I didn’t approach them the right way at the time. But that’s all guff, of course.

  5. This sounds like a sketchbook kind of project. As in, you are not creating a finished piece, you are collecting daily inspiration and notes to look back on and use as reference material. Maybe I am not understanding the project properly? But reading your post made me think of my daily routine, which is to go on a walk or jog at the state park and take photos of what catches my eye. I don’t force myself to photograph something every day, but I usually end up doing it because there is always something I see that I want a record of. 🙂 I have photos of everything from a wild turkey and her babies crossing the road to a single leaf that had fallen that had a beautiful color change. Anyway, I wonder if you’d find it easier to get started and just do it if you look at it from the perspective of just making a record of what you find beautiful or special each day as opposed to creating a masterpiece?

    1. I think my confusion about how to do this comes from the fact that it is partly inspired by Tony Foster’s Lockdown project. He took daily walks and made a little painting for each one, then put all 56 together in a big framed display. While I liked the daily thing and the flexibility of the cards he generated, I don’t have a time frame to work with really. I just want to collect colors. I’m thinking I should treat it like other “projects” I have going. I record the birds on the lake (Lake Watch) and make specific notes about where I see eagles (Bald Eagle Project) but they are just entries made as the opportunity arises right in my journal. We finally have a bluebird sky today, so I get to put my first entry in… this is definitely a color I associate with Colorado. Your photo project sounds great.

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