When you spend time being creative, you will make your fair share of mistakes. In this blog post I share how I learn from my creative mistakes and how you can learn and improve from yours too.

I feel like making mistakes when you’re creating is one of the best ways you can learn more about your creative pursuits. Whatever it is you like to do, whether it be drawing, painting, crafting, DIY, baking…anything at all. If you can make it, and it can go wrong, you can learn a hell of a lot.

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely the kind of person who often likes to work things out through trial and error. It can be the most frustrating way to learn, but it’s also one of the best ways to teach yourself something. When you can figure out for yourself what went wrong, and more importantly why it went wrong, you can learn a lot.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up!

As soon as you make a mistake, or something doesn’t turn out quite the way you hoped it would, you can react in one of two ways — positively or negatively.

The natural reaction is negative. Feeling like you can’t properly do whatever it is you were doing, that you will never be any good at it, you don’t know why you bother… Frustration, anger, disappointment. The perfectionist in you is pretty annoyed.

This was my main issue for a long time. Perfectionism, when you let it take over, is actually crippling. Rather than making you better at whatever you’re doing, it actually does the opposite.

It can stop you moving on to another project when you should, since the previous project isn’t quite perfect. It can stop you creating altogether, since you’re convinced you’ll never make anything perfect. And it can cause you to abandon a project when you’ve made a mistake — because, after all, if you’ve made a mistake, what you’ve created isn’t perfect.

I have had all these issues. I used to be a perfectionist, and I still suffer from perfectionist tendencies every so often. On the whole, however, I can now create in a much more relaxed way than I used to. And that is SO freeing.

Let me tell you this: It doesn’t have to be perfect every time. And it won’t be.

Read the line above again.

Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes, and you’re no different. The volume or frequency of your creative mistakes doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else. And as with most things relating to creativity, mistakes are very subjective. And depending on how hard you are on yourself, you may well seem to make more mistakes than your creative friends.

This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, by the way. It will take time, but eventually you will learn to embrace your mistakes, like I have, and use them as a learning experience. And that’s what we’re going to look at next — exactly how can you learn from your mistakes?

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What Can You Learn From Your Creative Mistakes?

What can you learn from your mistake that you can apply going forward? Rather than just looking at what you’ve created and writing it off, really look at it and figure out what it is that you don’t like about it.

Can you work out what feels wrong? In some cases it might be obvious, like you used the wrong glue in your project and it fell apart. In other cases, someone who is more experienced than you in your creative pursuit might be able to help. If you’re knitting and your project has come out slightly misshapen, ask an experienced knitter what you might have done wrong. If you don’t know anyone you can ask in person, there will be numerous places online where people will be more than willing to help!

Sometimes you might just have a feeling that what you’ve created isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on why or how. This can apply to many situations, but especially those where the outcome of the project is quite subjective and could be interpreted many ways. Painting and drawing are both examples of this.

Personally speaking, I get this a lot when I’m drawing. I know what I’ve attempted to draw, and I can feel that it’s not quite right. Sometimes, though, it takes a little bit of figuring out to work out exactly how it isn’t right.

My Wonky Cow Drawing

An example of this is with a drawing of a cow’s head that I did recently. I sketched out the outline and then stepped back so I could get a better overall picture of what I had drawn. But something just wasn’t quite right. It had all the right parts, like ears, nostrils, eyes, a mouth, etc. They all seemed to be in the correct places, too. So why didn’t it feel right?

In the end, I broke it down as simply as I could, by looking at the relationships between each part of the face. I also looked at where the lines joined in my drawing as compared to the original photo, and roughly compared the angles. By doing this I realised that I had inadvertently bent my cow’s nose slightly and skewed the perspective by making the nostrils too far apart.

If I had been disheartened by my slightly bizarre looking cow drawing, I might have just crumpled it up and thrown it in the recycling, and never thought about it again. I would probably have avoided drawing cows again in the future, too.

Now, I feel more confident that I could draw a cow in future and not have it look like I’m trying to embrace my inner Picasso. And I know that even if I do draw another slightly wonky-looking cow, I could identify where I strayed from the reference photo and know how to fix it.

Reinterpret What You’ve Created

So you’ve set out to create something, and it hasn’t turned out quite how you’d hoped it would. You’ve acknowledged that without beating yourself up, and you’ve gone on to look at what you can do differently next time.

But what about if what you’ve created has strayed so far away from what you had intended that it has become something different? Well, as much as this may seem like a disaster at worst or frustrating at best, this isn’t really a problem either. (Although I know this is easier said than done if you’re creating something for money, to a brief, or on a deadline.) Rather than worrying about how it’s turned out nothing like it’s supposed to be, can you reinterpret what you’ve created?

Think Like A Child

To do this, you may need to stop thinking literally. I was drawing with my 5-year-old niece recently, and she asked me to draw a pig so that she could copy it. So I drew a really simplified pig and she set to work. When she had finished, she sat back and held her drawing up so we could both see it.

Before I could say anything, she looked at me and grinned. “It looks like it’s on wheels!” was the first thing out of her mouth. Her 5-year-old interpretation of my drawing meant that, yes, her pig did look like it had wheels. So we both had a good laugh and made up a story about a really speedy pig on wheels, who whizzed about everywhere much faster than anyone else with boring old regular feet!

It may not be as simple as this for you to reinterpret your creative mistakes, but we can learn a lot from the way kids approach creativity (and that’s a completely different blog post!). When was the last time you laughed about one of your mistakes before turning it into something else?

As soon as you stop worrying about making mistakes, you free yourself up to create with more abandon. When you worry about getting something “wrong”, you stifle yourself and second guess what you’re doing. And that’s neither helpful nor desirable.

Embrace Your Mistakes!

So I want to encourage you to embrace mistakes. Mistakes help us to learn and move forward. When you embrace your mistakes as a learning curve, and a positive experience, you also increase your confidence in your abilities. It’s much more satisfying to figure out for yourself what went wrong, and then to see if you can put it right by yourself too.

Do you have any hints or tips for dealing with, and learning from, mistakes? If you do, leave a comment below 🙂

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