Managing Perfectionism as an Artist or Creator

I am a bit of a perfectionist. (Okay, maybe a lot of a perfectionist.) The main reason I have been this way for years is because I think it is important to produce and share good quality work. If I know that I am capable of producing better content, then I want to be able to provide that.

But sometimes as a perfectionist, working on a project for an extended period of time leads to nowhere and ultimately is not even released. Sometimes, this is good. You realize after working on a project for some time, that it is not a worthy project to begin with, or you need to pivot altogether. Other times, your work is actually pretty good for what you know and what you can do at the time, but you never release it, get feedback, and learn how to improve.

As an artist, sometimes it’s important to just continue putting out work and establishing a name for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re still learning how to blend colors. It’s important to share what your current skills reflect and then continue to build from there.

I first started posting song covers prior to 2017, though you will only see my music from 2017 onwards. My earlier works were horrible. I didn’t know how to mix, I didn’t know how to reproduce instrumentals… honestly, I still don’t know, haha. I was listening to all my music from 2017 until now. Wow. There is quite a difference in production between the tracks. It’s by releasing those tracks that I receive feedback from the audience and can learn how to improve on future songs.

This is how it is in school. You don’t get better at writing by just composing the same essay over your entire academic career. You submit a book report one month and get feedback from your teacher. You give a speech or a presentation and receive evaluation from your peers. Over time, you will learn how to improve. But at any given moment, you are limited to what you know. Make the most out of it, finalize it, share it, learn from it, and move on.

To keep my perfectionism under control, I do my best to post content regularly. It could be a song, a video, a blog post, or something else. If I go through a period of time when I’m not publishing something, then I check to see what is happening. Is it a busy time when I couldn’t focus on anything creative? Or, do I have several drafts of unfinished projects stored in my hard drive for that time period? Is it a new project? What am I getting stuck on?

For example, I am trying to get back to posting videos onto YouTube of myself talking about various topics on camera. However, I have this pattern of recording several takes, and never using any of them at all. I didn’t want to use scripts initially, but it’d probably help me out. Now that I reflect back on earlier videos, it does seem like I’ve used scripts (just a basic outline, really) to create some of my more well-formed videos. So, that is an idea to try!

As an artist or creative person in general, it’s important to also realize that your works are limited by your current equipment. But, that doesn’t mean you have to keep upgrading equipment and then getting stuck. I used GarageBand for a few years before switching to Logic Pro X. Even when I bought Logic Pro X, I didn’t publish any new songs using it, because I couldn’t figure out how to produce vocals the same way. So sure, I had a better DAW to work with. But, there was a learning curve to it that took me some time before I could actually use it and share works that I’ve created with it.

It’s like asking an artist to go from pen and paper to PhotoShop, or vice versa. It’s definitely possible, but it’s not the medium that they’re used to. So, don’t always think that “better equipment” is going to solve your perfectionist problems. Sometimes it will help, sometimes it will just delay the process even further.

I have two cheap mics. One is a mic that I’ve had since 2016. I don’t use it for my newer music, at least not usually. The second one is a mic I purchased something in the spring. It took me a month or so to understand how to use it better. The second mic is a little better. But, it’s gonna be some time before I invest in a high quality mic. One, there’s a learning curve, as always. And two, I want to focus on improving my singing and production skills overall before investing in better equipment. And three, the environment (home studio) is not the most favorable situation for recording in general. So, I’m trying to think of a better long-term solution, which might involve recording at a professional studio for the final draft.

Do Deadlines Work for Perfectionists?

Yes, and no. If it’s someone else’s deadline, ehhh, maybe. If it’s my own deadline, it usually works better. I never did well with writing assignments or creative projects and having a deadline at school. I always wanted more time to “perfect” my work. But obviously, teachers typically penalize you for turning in your work late. Soooo… that was not fun, and actually quite stressful for someone whose parents expected straight A’s.

In the real world, no one really cares if you published a work “late”. Well, unless you’re Blackpink. Usually, most people don’t care, especially for smaller artists/creators. Now, they might say something if you don’t post something for a while, if they really enjoy your work. But otherwise, there’s no real need to finish creative works, especially if you’re not part of working for a record label or some agency. (The pros of being an independent or unsigned artist!)

Deadlines are helpful when you have an idea of how the project will be completed. I’ve been experimenting with completing at least one song cover a month. For songs that I produce from scratch, it takes much longer. But basically when I lay out the whole process in my head, I can guess that one month is reasonable to finish a cover song from beginning to end. Original songs take longer for me, as I try to figure out the melodies, harmonies, lyrics, etc. The last original I released took 5-6 altogether, though I also wasn’t planning to complete it as a song at the beginning stages. I haven’t tried yet, but I think maybe 3-4 months is reasonable for any future original song, especially if I can find a good producer to help with the instrumentals (my biggest stumbling block).

So far, the one cover a month idea has been working well. This is the pace that works best for me. Maybe other artists can do this in a much shorter time, or may even require more time. But, that is why I set the deadline, not someone else.

Being able to manage your own schedule can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. I will only set deadlines for projects that are important to me to get out. And, I try not to be so strict with them. The last thing I need is to be highly stressed and anxious because I missed some arbitrary deadline. I’d like to think of deadlines as gentle nudges, and not being hit by a truck.

Overall, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being a perfectionist. I think our little tendencies and habits can build up over time and get in the way. So, it’s helpful to have some tools and ideas to get creative works moving and out there. It wasn’t until university that I was able to get a real handle on completing assignments on time and not letting perfectionism ruin my grades. I could maybe talk about handling perfectionism in academic settings another time.

I hope that this way helpful to any of the self-proclaimed perfectionist artists or creators out there.

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