When I was a kid, my mom encouraged me to enroll in everything that I showed even slight interest in. I’ve joined ballet classes, art classes, computer classes, to name a few.
I was also told to enroll in an English course. Most of my friends went to this one place, because first, it’s the nearest from school, and second, it’s pretty affordable with decent quality teacher and curriculum.
I joined the free trial class one day. It was not fun. We were told to repeat one sentence over and over again. I don’t remember exactly what and how now, because it’s a blur for me. But my parents remembered this vividly, because they told me I told them at that time that I didn’t want to join the course.
So I didn’t.
Another time, I was enrolled in a swimming class at a swimming pool just 5 minutes walking distance from my house. Between me and swimming, it’s a love-hate relationship. I would be told to do the same swimming stroke for 10 laps, or 20, only to be interrupted by the occasional breath break in between laps. I didn’t enjoy the class, but every time it ended, I would miss it. So I ended up dropping out and re-enrolling 2 or 3 times in the span of 5 years.
It always starts with repetitions
To instill a new habit, or to learn a new skill for the first time, you always have to start with copying what has been done. To learn the best practices, the building blocks, the starting points.
For example, I’ve noticed (from months of learning how to draw, cook, and paint) that every subject starts with imitation. You can start wherever you want, of course, but when you have no idea what you’re doing, most of the time you’re just copying.
With cooking, you follow a recipe. With painting, maybe you follow a tutorial on Youtube. With writing, you start with reading books and articles. But there’s something more in this process, you’re also starting to notice patterns in those things. You start to notice what role a certain element is playing in the finished product.
Build your own work
After spending some time imitating, now you want to make your own. This is why the copying stage is important, because you need the ‘technical’ knowledge to build your own work. Now it’s time to add your creativity to that knowledge, by putting your self, your background, your experience, and your voice into the work.
By now, you’ll be able to say the things you want to say through your work.
Endure the boredom
If I could say something to my younger self, it’d probably be, “Stick with it. You’ll get better at it and soon you’ll be able to make what you want to make.”
Because creative work always starts with repetitions. Drawing the same pair of eyes for the tenth times. Seeing and copying. Doing the same thing over and over again until it feels natural.
Until you can break the rules.