Last September, I wrote "Fighting Out of Formation – a Metaphor for Creativity."
If you look at George Washington or Napoleon Bonaparte, their forces knew how to fight out of formation. That’s why they were able to win important battles against larger, more well-equipped forces. They stirred up a bunch of chaos because their forces were able to handle chaos better than the enemy.
I think if you want to do creative endeavors like writing, painting, whatever – you need to learn to fight out of formation. By that, I mean you need to learn how to do it without having “formal expert tone” or being highly polished. Ideally, you can communicate well without necessarily obeying grammar and punctuation. After all, the point of writing is to communicate – the language is supposed to serve you, you’re not supposed to serve it.
It takes a lot longer to get into formation if you’re out of it than to just fight slightly wild and crazy. Of course, you should learn discipline and how to fight in formation, and should be able to do well in that role. It might even be your bread and butter. But if you’re editing every memo you send, every blog post you write, every rallying talk or speech you give – then you’re burning a lot of time.
This is something I've tried to adopt for myself, but it goes against my nature. By nature, I'm a perfectionist. My natural tendency is to work and re-work and re-work and re-work something ad infinitum.
I recognized that this isn't going to cut it, so I started looking to do things faster.
But what does that actually mean, what does that actually translate to?
I try to work quickly, to do prolific amounts of work. The last two blog posts could serve as a good example.
Two days ago, I wrote "70 Years From Now" - basically, I had the idea of looking at 70 years before an empire fell, what was happening in the empire? Interestingly, the Ottoman Empire fought the Crimean War exactly 70 years before falling, and its allies during that war became its adversaries during World War I.
The piece was coming together well, so I decided to look where all the countries of the world were 70 years ago. I checked the United States, the USSR, China during its Civil War, Imperial China, the UK, and Weimar Germany.
I collected some figures and notes about the political leadership of each country, discovered some interesting things, and I think I wrote it into a rather interesting piece.
Then I realized... wait a minute, 1931 wasn't 70 years ago. That was 80 years ago.
So I cursed a little bit, and I had some decisions on my hand. I thought the point about the Ottoman Empire, World War I, and the Crimean War was interesting, and I thought 1931 was an interesting time to look at what was happening in some of the world powers, since people didn't know what lay ahead of them.
What'd I do? A threw a little coat of paint on the piece very quickly, "70 years… 80 years… how long is that? Not that long, really. Average lifespan in the Western world is right between 70 and 80 – and still climbing. Many of us will be alive 70 years from now."
Before that, those both referenced 70 years, the whole theme of 70 years ran through the piece. But whatever, it wasn't the main point and the piece still stood, and people seemed to like it. Lots of good comments on it.
Then yesterday, I write "Celerity" about moving faster with things. I'm quite busy right now and I had to head off to a meeting right after writing it, so I didn't have time to edit beyond a quick skim.
I see words I'd cut, I see a little transition I'd add, and I'd unify the the point about Augustus and business better if I were to edit it heavily.
But you know what? It's fine.
Obviously, like anyone doing anything creative, I'd prefer my work is perfect. But if I had set a standard of perfectionism, I would have quit a long time ago. Instead of imperfect-but-still-interesting work, there'd be no work at all. Meanwhile, I think my writing is improving as the months go by.
So, how about you, dear reader? Are you being a perfectionist in some things that are stopping you from doing more and more interesting work?