An Imperfect New Thing
Talking myself out of talking myself out of this.
Ever since The Nerdwriter found its audience, I’ve been hesitant to start new creative projects. That’s because most of my starts are false starts, ventures that seem like good ideas, but which quickly prove dull or daunting. I’m an expert at abandoning things (as my Documents folder attests) and very bad at finishing. The Nerdwriter and Escape Into Meaning are rare exceptions, not the rule.
This, I’m sure, is not unique. False starts are an inevitable part of the creative process, and a desirable part, too. A crowded graveyard of abandoned projects speaks to a spirit of experimentation, and experimentation is the only route to genuinely new things. All the work we love stands atop a mountain of misfires.
But when you have a lot of followers, telling them about a new project amounts to An Announcement!, and that carries a fanfare experiments don’t deserve. The pressure makes me scared to scrap the project because the scrapping is public. So I avoid that outcome by not starting—but why do I care if my audience sees me launch something, only to cast it aside a few weeks later? I’m not really sure.
Maybe it’s perfectionism. I hate releasing imperfect things into the world—which is the reason I rarely use social media. Those platforms encourage you to dump all your half-considered thoughts into the feed, until the feed resembles a landfill. Most of what happens in my head is messy, shallow, and of no value. The general public is lucky to be spared that nonsense. (My friends aren’t so fortunate.)
The value I hope to offer is in my book and on my show, the result of days and months of work. You’ll be the final judge of their worth, of course, but they’re made with care, so I don’t feel bad asking you to spend valuable time on them.
Given the low completion rate of my other projects, I worry about wasting your time with something half-baked and short-lived. I worry that you’ll be cross with me if put out something that doesn’t have the polish of The Nerdwriter. I worry that I’ll become the boy who cried “new project!” and when a good one finally comes along you’ll be too exhausted and annoyed by a series of failures to care.
Writing it out, I see the flaws in this way of thinking:
First, perfectionism is a mirage. It strives for something that doesn’t exist. I’ve never made a perfect thing and never will.
Second, my fears are laughably superficial, as fears tend to be. The “public” they imagine doesn’t resemble real people so much as cardboard cutouts, whose presumed anger bears no resemblance to the generosity I’ve received from my audience for over a decade. These worries aren’t reflections of human beings, but of self-doubts, and a lingering imposter syndrome that can’t be convinced that anything I do has value, despite evidence to contrary.
Finally, The Nerdwriter owes everything to experimentation and imperfection. It’s only because I forced myself to finish imperfect episodes that the quality of the show improved over time. Once you complete something, you can diagnose its flaws and address them in the next project. This was the gift of YouTube, that it didn’t feel precious in the early days—but as my audience grew, so grew a sense of responsibility, and perfectionism crept back in.
Understanding these things doesn’t vanquish the worry, or quiet the perfectionism, but it helps me push ahead in the face of them.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll abandon this blog in a week. Maybe this will be the first and final entry. Maybe I’ll do it for six months, then abruptly walk away, deleting every post in a spasm of regret. I don’t know. I don’t know if this blog will last—but today I feel like experimenting again, so into the world it goes.