I set a challenge for myself recently on DeviantArt. For 15 days in a row, I will draw one picture a day and submit it to my gallery regardless of quality and completion. One hope is to make a habit out of drawing pictures more, but along the way I found myself overcoming many weaknesses I have had that held me back. These are weaknesses I would outright deny, or even worse proclaim them to be my strengths! Here are the two generalised weaknesses with expanded insight explaining just about everything in the universe: Fear of Failure and Perfectionism. I am NOT trying to write an inspirational piece! This is entirely personal, only fit for me. If anyone else relates to it then that's fine, but there is no gospel here.
1. Fear of Failure.
This one was hard to admit at first, but looking at my results in the past (or lack of) I had to seriously analyse myself and open my mind to any new possibilities if it had a chance of helping me. I'm only up to the 6th day in my challenge and I've already noticed how fear of failure has consumed me in the past.
The way it works is this: I draw a picture and it's chock full of mistakes, I hate the drawing. It doesn't meet the minimum standards of quality I'm looking for and so I discard the drawing. The thing is, my standards of quality are much higher than anything I've ever produced in my life. They are based on other people's drawings that I'm aiming for! In order to reach that standard it takes A LOT of hard work and most importantly, the know-how.
Contrariwise (I couldn't resist), you may learn new tricks all by yourself in your own experimentation, but if you don't know how to do something you actually want to do then you won't always accomplish it through sheer luck. It takes research, practice, mastering, THEN you're open to experimentation. Above all, A LOT OF HARD WORK.
This is what fear of failure is about. I think about attempting what I don't know, but because I don't know then I haven't begun, and all that hard work that could have happened never will happen. The irony of having fear of failure is that in the end you fail anyway.
To overcome the fear of failing, I have completely eliminated the standards of quality I'm after, and I just draw what I want draw without worrying how bad it looks. If I end up hating it afterwards, at least I made something, and the failure doesn't taste so bad after all. In the end the only person I'm trying to impress is myself. I'm more impressed that I can come up with any output at all.
I am in favour of quality over quantity, but I can't handle it. I can't privately draw a thousand bad pictures for every good one I show. Keep in mind, this is only addressing my own personal issues, I wish not to inspire others to think like I do.
If you think too hard, you may think perfectionism is the same as fear of failure. If you think even harder, you'll find that it's in a completely different league all together. You may have heard many clichés like "nobody's perfect!" or "perfection doesn't exist!". They basically summarise everything I'm about to say, but I would really like to expand on the inherent problem of perfectionism with a couple of examples.
Firstly, perfectionism comes after the step of overcoming fear of failure, and you are ready to start working hard. But where is the point that you will be truly completed? Through the following examples I will demonstrate that no matter what state your work is in, it's always never finished and in a constant state of work-in-progress.
I'd like to use the example of a blu-ray disc I spent a lot of money on recently called Rebuild of Evangelion 1.11 - You Are (Not) Alone. I also have the DVD of Evangelion 1.0 as a comparison, not to mention the original TV series which the movie was based on (virtually identical to the first few episodes). One of the special features was a musical vignette charting the progress of "rebuilding" the Evangelion 1.0 movie into 1.01 (the version 1.11 is rebuilt even further). There are many scenes deconstructed by starting off with an animatic, or a pencil test, or primitive CGI graphics, then constantly reshowing the scene in motion as it's being worked on. The scenes would usually come to a point of being acceptable of being published on the screen, but then it gets taken further and further. More sparkles, more subtle movements, more lighting effects. It becomes excessive. I think the point that they are trying to illustrate (even from the numbering "1.11" in the title) is that there will never be a definitive, final, "perfect" version of the film. There's no reason why there can't be an Evangelion 1.2 or 1.21, up to a 1.99999999 and so on. It's possible to keep it going and going and going until it becomes the most excessively expensive and technically accomplished animation of ALL TIME (as if it wasn't already).
The other example is on another blu-ray I spent a lot of money on, being the "Definitive" Blade Runner. What they have now claimed is that this is the ABSOLUTE FINAL cut of Blade Runner. There are already 4 other versions floating around, so it was time to take all the footage they had, re-master it, fix up some scenes, piece it together under the final decisions of Ridley Scott, release it and say "No more! This is it! The DEFINITIVE FINAL CUT!!". What's to say Ridley Scott could be watching it two years later and thinking "damn it! I liked it when he said "fucker" instead of "father" like he originally did!".
The possibilities of reworking the film are endless! Scenes could be taken out for pacing, or scenes could be re-arranged. How about putting the Unicorn dream at the very beginning, opening shot of the film? Harrison Ford wakes up to it, and as for the actual opening where the last blade-runner gets shot, that information can be slowly divulged over time when they re-play the footage throughout the movie! I only just thought of that on the spot! Of course, just about every scene would have to be re-arranged to play out differently, all I'm saying is that it will NEVER be perfect. Never truly, definitively, finally completed.
Everything produced is always still in its work-in-progress, this includes work-in-progress itself. Say a film is only half completed, the rest is only shown in storyboard animatic, or missing footage, unrendered CGI effects etc. That to me is just as valid as a product you will see on the screen in the cinema (half the time they are even reworked further for the home video release). It may not look as spectacular, but the point is that it's there. The point is - there is another point relating to the last point.
If nothing is ever "complete", then when is the best time to stop working on it? First answer: when you're exhausted (either your health or even your funds). Second answer: when you hit the deadline. If you have no more time to spare, that's that and that's it. You may think you have no deadline, but that's where you're wrong. We all have a deadline, if you think about it. My deadline for this particular challenge I'm doing is midnight every night. You can set your own deadlines for yourself if you're unsure. Working without a deadline is like working without anything, but if that must be the case, then you might as well go with the first answer. I usually stop drawing when I'm completely exhausted, then I go and watch a movie or play a video game for the rest of the night.
Overcoming perfectionism is coming to accept that there is no completion. Every species on the planet is still evolving. Everything you do will always be work-in-progress (WIP). You must accept that early stages of WIP and later stages of WIP are one in the same blanket. When you need to stop, then just stop! You can always re-work it later when you've gained some know-how, or you can just move on to something else!
A smaller thing for me to overcome right now is laziness. I just generally feel too tired a lot of the time to ever work on anything. Firstly, I know there is no such thing as "artist's block", it's just an excuse for your laziness. If I'm out of my own ideas, then I'll draw some fan-art. My mind is always banging on about something, so it's not hard to draw anything related to what I think about.
An obvious improvement over laziness, even general fatigue, is analysing your own diet. If food is supposed to supply you with energy, then why do I get tired when I eat so much of it? Firstly, it's hard to have energy when you're not up and exercising physically, and drawing pictures or writing isn't about developing your six-pack no matter how you think about it! Secondly I'm eating too much crap and I'm not eating enough vegetables and raw fruits.
I read some blog post from a vegan talking about how milk isn't good for you unless you have four stomachs like a cow, and how his health has improved after he started eating more vegetables and raw fruit. I was slightly irritated by a sudden turn in vegan-preaching, but simultaneously I was desperate enough to try something new anyway. I went down to the fruit-store and bought some pears and mandarins and experienced it myself. I started feeling a bit ill, which is apparently normal as the "toxins" were being "flushed out", but then I felt fine a little while later, and rather energised too! To me it felt like a cleansing process, and the thing about me is that I kind of like the cleansing process, enough to go "play in the dirt" just so I can get cleaned out again. I still drink milk, I enjoy my calcium, but I make sure I eat some raw fruit afterwards. I've taken it upon myself to eat more fruit, I feel it's done me well. You don't get an energy "kick" like a caffiene buzz, but it's more like a healthy energy spread out over time, which is exactly what I want for non-physical exercise and long-lasting concentration.
Overcoming laziness is the biggest challenge, but the best way I can think of is through the art of habit. We live our lives by habits, we make them and break them all the time. Most habits are formed without us even realising, but the most important thing to remember is that you can make your own habits. It takes patience, hard work and fanatical dedication, but you can do it.
The trick is to give yourself at least 30 days for the challenge (this is also a trick some advertisers try when they ask you to "take the 30 day challenge", so that you form a habit of buying their product intuitively against your will). Keep repeating your action over and over, mentally aware of it at first, every day. Eventually you won't have the mental awareness, it will soon become second-nature. You will just keep doing it out of the plain fact being it's what you do. Breaking habits is just as much a mental task as making them. Personally I'd like to say it's 15 days, but I haven't really tried it seriously until now, so we'll see.