Professional Personal

A review of the book "Wheest", approximately

I recently read the book "Wheest: creative making in uncertain times", by Kate Davies. It was available to order from a yarn store, and the title seemed relevant to these times, so I ordered it. It's not as directly relevant as I thought, but it really captures a lot of thoughts on making and creativity that I had, a lot better than I would have done. (Not that it's stopping me, clearly).

The way the book works is that it lists various preconceptions people have about creativity that might block you or hold you back, and challenges those preconceptions. For instance, one chapter is about the concept that creativity has to somehow reflect your authentic inner self. Each chapter introduces such a concept, and gives an example of an artist that has taken the opposite approach and how it's worked well for them. It also ends with some suggestions about ways that you could challenge that concept in your creative interests, and often has some links to some pretty interesting articles or resources.

One underlying idea that resonated with me is the idea that there's a misconception that you're supposed to be good at what you do, and if you aren't you should be embarassed to try. The book actually gets a lot more specific than that, but a lot of the ideas it talks about fall roughly into that category (e.g. the idea that repeating the same thing is bad). It's hard to break free of the idea that you are somehow being ranked or graded on anything remotely high-effort, even if you're doing it for fun in your free time.

I've noticed this in other people as well, especially when I try and convince my friends to try a new hobby. For everything from knitting to D&D, it seems common for people to be held back by a fear that they will be bad at it, or that they won't learn to be good at it, even though clearly it doesn't actually matter very much, because it's not like you're doing it as a job.

Even at work, though, one thing that's hard to learn as a junior software engineer is that sometimes you have to give up on perfection. It's better to have something that's good enough that's shipped than something perfect that's never shipped. All of this - the general idea that anything worth doing is worth doing badly and maybe later you'll do it well - has been, more or less, how I've succeeded in everything from learning to knit to getting a PhD. But I feel like there was a lot of unlearning before I could learn that.

Even so, though, deciding to not be held back by the idea that you might be bad at what you're doing is easier said than done. So rather than just vaguely say you shouldn't be held back by the fear of being bad at something, the book suggests concrete things to do to deliberately explore ways of being creative that you might have thought aren't any good.

I realize that as I write this, I've had a goal during this Shelter In Place to write regularly and post on my blog, but have been held back by the fact that I feel like what I've been writing isn't very good, even though I doubt many people, if anyone, will read it. On the one hand I'm telling people not to be held back by their fear of being bad at things, but here I am doing the exact same thing.

Written May 2020