A place to me to dive a little deeper about computers, science, math, art, music, or whatever else I want.

Nothing is Finished

...only abandoned

by Aaron Tagliaboschi
20 January 2020

Starting a blog is odd, nowadays. There’s really zero barrier for entry, technically speaking. You’re just two or three clicks away on any number of websites and you can start typing. The hard part now is actually finding something to write about. I personally enjoy writing any way that I can, but I haven’t started a blog yet. Life gets in the way, there’s always new distractions, and for some strange reason, I’ve always found it much easier so start things.

This isn’t, for instance, the first post I’ve written for this blog. I wanted to start by introducing myself: who I am, how I do, why I wanted to start blogging. Standard “about me” affair. I actually have a full post written. I struggled to write it, and as is usually the case with these things, I now hate it. This process isn’t new to me; it happens with almost everything even remotely creative I make, and I definitely don’t think it’s unique to me. We are, after all, our own worst critics. So I did what I usually do, which is to say I let it breathe and see if I came back to it.

In 2017, Tony Zhou announced that his video essay series Every Frame a Painting was coming to an end. His postmortem talked about many things, including the origins of the channel, the rationale behind some of its stylistic decisions, and how an episode went from origin to complete video. I’ve taken many cues from the article, but here’s one of my favorites: keep a notebook, write down your idea, and then completely forget about it. If an idea is really something you can talk and think about, it’ll keep bubbling back up. Only if you find it so compelling that you can’t get it out of your head. I’ve had a couple of ideas knocking around for a few years now, and now is as good a time as any.

(Side note, if you’re unaware of the series, you should absolutely watch every episode. Each one is a masterclass in editing, story telling, and each lesson is applicable to anything creative that you do, especially any video/film making, and I can not heap enough praise on it.)

“Finished” is sort of a misnomer, I think. As Tony explained, he decided not to make anymore videos for a variety of reasons, but he definitely didn’t exhaust all possible subjects of video essays, or say everything he could possibly say. He wasn’t finished. Rather he walked away. Nothing’s ever finished, not really. Simply abandoned.

(Last side note, I promise. I don’t want to sound like I blame Tony or Taylor for stopping Every Frame a Painting. You can read that post mortem if you want to know more (and you should anyways) but I’d far rather the two of them be happy and productive doing something else than get more episodes of a free internet video series)

Anything can always use that one last thing. Anything can be kneaded “just a little bit more”. “Finishing,” in reality, is more about letting go and acknowledging that it whatever you’ve made is never going to be “perfect”. Acknowledging that, in reality, there’s no such thing, and anything you share will have sort of flaws. Most importantly, acknowledge that flaws don’t subtract from your work at all. They add to it.

If it isn’t obvious, getting past this is urge for perfection is extremely difficult. Over the years I’ve had plenty of time to develop coping methods. One of my favorites is just to close my eyes and throw. I will get whatever I’m doing out as fast as I can and never look back. I’ve played and recorded for long enough that I can trust that it doesn’t sound bad. It might not be amazing, it might not be 100% polished, but I know my abilities well enough to know that it won’t be “bad”. Of course, this doesn’t help if you’re not incredibly confident in your abilities, and even if you are it might not be the best idea.

You can also set limits for yourself. This can mean deadlines for various parts or the whole, or only allowing yourself a certain number of drafts. Another idea, introduced to me by Hank Green, is to take it 90% of the way there, where you’ve just got some last touch ups to do…and stop. Touch ups can be addicting, and you’re almost certainly just as good without them.

The important part is to let go. See your mistakes, know that they’re there, and don’t make them next time. There’s a fantastic clip of Ira Glass talking about starting out in a creative field. In short, he says that when you start out, your taste is far better than your ability. So not only are you not making great things, or even good things, but you can tell and it’s incredibly disheartening. I’ve learned that you have 100 bad songs you have to make before you can make the good ones. The best way to get better is to get through them as quickly as you can.

Pour your soul into garbage, and enjoy it. Embrace it! If you know you’re making crap, don’t get so disappointed when it happens! Enjoy the absolute freedom that comes with making something absolutely terrible. And know this: Few people make great things by starting out to make great things. Many great things were made by people who had a passion to create just to create.

This, all of it, is completely new to me. The boundaries, the rules, the whole concept is completely different, and something I have very little experience with. So I leave you with this post as my very first. This is a note to myself: if you have a good idea, something you just need to tell the world, 90% is better than 0. I’ll learn, I’ll grow, I’ll get better. I’ve got 100 songs to get through, so here’s number one.