I’m in the car shuttling kids from one
place to another when I’m suddenly struck with an idea for a brilliant design. I
can see it so clearly in my mind’s eye and I become totally consumed with
developing it and making it come to life.
The rest of the daytime hours are spent thinking about my
idea, mulling over how it’s all going to come together, just waiting for the
hours after the kids are tucked into bed so that I can run up to the studio to
When 8:00 pm rolls around and I’m a little tired, but still
raring to go. The first stages go smoothly, fueled by my assuredness that this
is going to be awesome. Then I start drawing pattern pieces, cutting fabric,
sewing stuff together and when I finish what I’ve made is so misshapen I can
hardly look at it. By now it’s 10:00 pm and I’ve got to go to bed.
The next day, I still believe in my idea and feel sure I can
fix it. Massive edits ensue. Every pattern piece gets redrawn and I make a
second prototype and stuff it. And it’s still terrible. Actually in some ways
it’s worse than the first.
Monkey heads with various failed muzzles.
But now I can see, at least partially, what went wrong. Third
time’s a charm, right? More edits, more redrawing. I sew and stuff the third prototype.
Still terrible. Okay, more research, more sketching, and then another one. I’m
getting closer, but not really. Sometimes there are nine cycles like this, or
And you know what? This is when most people give up. When questions
pop up about whether this idea was so hot in the first place, whether it’s even
possible, or possible for me, it’s easy to just say forget it. You hear
yourself asking why you’re wasting your time and your materials on making crap.
And who do you think you are anyway. Toss it out. Go watch TV.
This is when I come downstairs into the family room with a seriously
grumpy look on my face and Charlie says,
“I’m in hell,” I say.
“I can tell.”
He knows what I’m talking about because this happens every time.
In this moment we are presented with a crucial choice: give up
Many terrible kangaroos. There were more.
Creative work involves constant problem solving, fixing, and
refining. When you’ve developed a level of expertise in what you’re doing, it
gets easier because you can more easily predict what will go wrong and you’ve acquired
enough skills to correct errors mid-stream.
In order to develop that expertise, though, you have to continually
choose to persevere.
Even naturally talented designers, and designers with formal
education in their field, and designers with all the trappings of success,
acquired their expertise through perseverance. If you probe just a little bit into
their success stories you’ll see that more often than not they got where they
are because they refused to stop trying.
The more you make, the more you force yourself to forge
through those moments when you are closest to giving up. And every time you
come out the other side with a finished product, every time you persevere, your
level of expertise deepens.
So you know what? Go get that prototype out the garbage and
make another one. And one more after that. Eventually you’ll see why the
problems exist. You’ll be able to anticipate them and correct for them before
you even begin.
The problems you’re having with this design won’t be there for
the next one. They’ll be new problems to solve, but you’ll have the expertise
you need to forge through those, you just need to persevere.
Have a tale of perseverance in creative work? Been ready to throw in the towel? Made a few prototypes, or a few dozen? Let's hear it.