The Joy of Imperfection: Getting Creative in Lockdown


Yesterday, I recorded some jazz on my clarinet. I played out of tune, the vibrato was heavy, the tempo was inconsistent, and the articulation was muddy. There was no elegance or cerebral activity whatsoever.

I had recorded it to demonstrate to my friend how I sounded as an amateur clarinettist. Twenty minutes later, he responded with an audio file of the piece with piano chords. There was something charming about its roughness and simplicity. I had a new-found appreciation for the composition; it was somehow beautiful.

And it taught me an important lesson.

Too often we take art too seriously. Not only in our work, but also in our leisure. John Coltrane said there is fun in being serious, but most of us are not Coltrane. Taking yourself too seriously is a quick way to become frustrated and quit your hobbies.

If you are sitting at home becoming increasingly irritated by your inability to be great at whatever art form you have dedicated yourself to, maybe this is what you need to hear. Take a step back and laugh at yourself. Look at your work without critical contempt and enjoy its roughness.

The extraordinary psychological pressure placed on productivity in lockdown has driven many of us to forget that hobbies are not supposed to be stressful. During the first lockdown, between university and sleep, I worked on my novel and practiced my clarinet or saxophone for at least six hours a day. There was no time to relax. I had to improve and make the most of the time I had been given. Within a week, I no longer wrote my novel and my music practice was down to one hour a day (though I am sure the neighbours were pleased with this development).

My interest in writing was revived in the second lockdown. Sat with my friends in our flat, one of them proposed we write poetry together. I was entirely unmotivated but decided to join in anyway. I scribbled down a short poem on my notepad, deliberately seeking to make it as terrible as possible. After revealing the masterpiece (no, I shall not show it here), we all laughed. That night, we composed an entire anthology of truly the worst poetry ever written.

But the next day, I began to write again.

In this lockdown, I have been more willing to laugh at my own art; hence, my increased creativity in producing it. There is a great amount of joy to be found in the mistakes and imperfections of your work and looking at them may inspire you to push yourself in a new direction.

Sometimes the rough itself can be as charming as the diamond.

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