Play and Revision / by gene talbott

In her valuable book The Right to Write Julia Cameron addresses the procrastination and fear that often surrounds artistic creation by saying this: "When we become willing to write imperfectly, we become able to write." Many of us who want to create things of a more or less artistic nature can feel blocked by the anxiety that what comes out will be not what we mean, not what we intend, not what we want or were hoping for. Not pleasing enough. Not perfect enough. That time or materials will be wasted. This anxiety feeds a desire to skip over the messy and imperfect stages of the process of bringing something into being, and jump straight to a gratifyingly perfect product. And since that is clearly impossible, one becomes quite reluctant to do anything at all.

I find myself in this situation often. Maybe it's a subconscious over-identification of myself and my worth with my (good or bad) results. Or maybe it's just a difficulty in tolerating creative frustration, where I can see or feel what I want, but not do it yet. In any case, if the problem is a real reluctance to engage the messy and frustrating creative process, the solution is straightforward: find a way to embrace the process. Learn to love it. Learn to live there. The question is how to make that internal shift.

I feel there are two complementary aspects to thoroughly and energetically inhabiting one's creative drive. They should be fairly obvious to anyone who's done a fair bit of creative work. The first is cultivating an enthusiastic and fearless sense of play. And the second is cultivating an appreciation and enjoyment of the necessary, extremely valuable process of revision.

What is a sense of play? It is exploration for its own sake. It is taking delight in seeing what happens. You take pleasure in simply making moves, not in judging the result. Each move will give you something to consider, more to work with. In play you attempt to forget yourself and your worries and, in a sense, become one with the flow of materials and qualities, one with the flow of doing.

The sense of play grows by being exercised. There is really no other way. So, exercise it, for no other reason than to grow it. Take your chosen medium and make a move. See what happens. Do not count any cost, and do not decide that the result is good or bad. Imagine, just for a moment, that your very being lies in just making move after move, stepping into the unknown, bringing something out, and the result is not your concern. Not yet.

The idea of revision, and the importance of revising one's work, should be understood, and embraced wholeheartedly. Even passionately. You could truly say revision is where the real work takes place. Revision is not something you engage in because you 'weren't good enough' to get it right the first time. It is determining what does and does not belong to this particular work, a process of discrimination that refines both the work as a being and you as an artist and individual. Revision is deciding who and what both you and the work will be, and bringing each of these toward a unique and powerful existence.

Contrary to play, revision is a process of judging, of seeing what you have and the ways in which it does not yet conform to your vision (which itself may be in the process of being formed) or sense of rightness--and then altering things, by essentially playing some more.

Play and revision, back and forth and back. They should be kept separate, else they get in each other's way and muck things up. Muck you up. Revise when you should be playing, and you'll freeze up, or choke, be fearful. Oddly, this often happens when we want to avoid having to revise.  But revision is absolutely an intrinsic part of the process. Play when you should be revising, and you'll be too arrogant and too arbitrary, serving yourself, not the work. The work will never rise to the power of a self-contained whole. However, despite this necessity of separation, at times, especially with practice, they can be brought closer together, even very close. I believe that is sometimes what is meant by flow.