A million years ago, before I learned how to write and long before I knew what acting was, I used to draw things: people, trees, houses, animals, suns. Anything and everything that shows up in a kid’s world, and many (monsters, fairies, angels, etc.) that only showed up in the stories in a kid’s world. I remember loving to draw so much that for a long time, it seemed impossible that I would ever not draw. I even made it through those twin realizations that stop many of us from continuing on with something we love: that, for whatever reason, our drawing/acting/singing isn’t as great as x’s; and that x is also drawing/acting/singing things that are far, far more difficult than we can imagine, and with seeming ease.
Even knowing I was only mediocre, I drew all the way through high school, into college, and even into my 20s before I caved and quit. My intentions in quitting were partly honorable—I acknowledged that the greats tended to focus, and that focus aided greatness. But if I am honest, I also hid a lot of fear and shame behind those noble intentions. I never stopped wanting to draw; I just stopped letting myself be bad at it. And if you’re not willing to fail at something, you might get lucky here or there, but you’re probably not going to get much satisfaction, and you’re definitely not going to get better at it.
It worked, in one way. The more time I spent writing, the better I got at it. But it was all so serious. Just as, when I dropped writing for acting (and again, later, acting for writing), it became serious. I didn’t get it then; I figured I was just an uptight, serious person. And I am! But that monomaniacal focus on top of an already serious personality didn’t make for the greatest feelings in the world.
Which is why, back in the beginning of March, when a few friends and I set up an accountability group, I settled on drawing as my daily self-care activity. To draw every day for 10 minutes meant setting aside expectations and simply doing it. It would have to be about process, about letting myself be messy and awful—or messy and great, or just messy—and cranking it out. I would make a lot of shitty sketches, and I would live. I might even make a few good sketches, but still, the point was just that I would draw, no matter what, and life would go on. I would not die if I made a bad sketch. I would not be catapulted into another dimension if I managed a good sketch.
31 days later, I have drawn 31 more things. Some are better than others, technically speaking, but not in a straight, upward trajectory. It might take hundreds or even thousands of drawings before you’d be able to see any true, identifiable improvement in skill. Does that bum me out? To the contrary: I’m thrilled that I’m okay with not being great. It gives me hope that eventually, I’ll be able to fail at all kinds of things I really want to do, which in turn means that I might actually be able to do them. Like write the book I’ve been threatening to write for almost 10 years now. Or even submit the essay that’s finished except for one opening line that is not yet—you guessed it—perfect.
Screw perfect. It’s time to roll with “done”. Which is why I am signing up for#The100DayProject. It’s a massive movement of individual makers who are each committing to creating ONE thing per day, and sharing it online, via Instagram. That’s pretty much it, rules-wise. You can make anything you want, as long as it’s the same thing, every day. (Or, you know, in the same family.) The instruction page links out to some examples; it’s a very loose directive. Learn a song a day! Take a photo a day! Meet a new person a day! Write a letter a day! Just show up, day after day, and do it.
You will succeed. You will fail. But you will absolutely, positively gain the habit of showing up for yourself in the face of everything. And what performer doesn’t need more of that?
The game starts on Monday, April 6th. I hope you’ll join us.
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Re-READ BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: Whatever you need to inspire you will work, but if you’re lost, flailing, or new (or even new again) to the process of showing up daily, you can’t do better than Steven Pressfield’s masterful two works of non-fiction on creating, The War of Art and Turning Pro. The first introduces you to the idea of Resistance, an unstoppable force that will eat your lunch if you aren’t on your guard; the second hammers home the importance of daily practice in the face of Resistance. Dilettantes dabble; pros show up, every day, and make things. Each book is written in tiny chapter-lets, almost like a daily devotional. They’re long enough to give you a boost, and not so long that you can use them to procrastinate. Grab one or both to keep by your side when you’re feeling stuck.
Colleen Wainwright spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.