Be honest now. Comparing creativity is a trap that loads of us fall into. When I started sewing I compared my work to others so often that I was almost incapable of stitching. I became convinced that my work would never be as interesting, professional, functional or beautiful. Happily, that’s all changed and experience has largely taught me how to shove those comparisons up the arse of the devil that sits on my shoulder. And in case you too have a chronic case of comparing creativity (say that after a drop of sherry) here’s how you can tackle it too:
No, seriously. Fuck it. Social media means it’s easy to check on the competition thereby comparing creativity. Yet when I did it, it made me feel inadequate, unaccomplished and incapable. So I just stopped looking at the competition’s timelines. Ok, so this means I largely work in a creative bubble but it also means I don’t get lured into hating myself. That Kraken Kreations exists in blissful ignorance of what everyone else is doing is a small price to pay. Let me know if the world ended while I was typing this, will you?
Never copy another’s design
Not just because it’s a shitshow of immorality. It’s because you’ll only ever aspire to be like someone else when you copy their work. And while there are lots of ubiquitous designs out there – the tote, say, or the oven gloves – the least you can do is put your own twist on them so that you’re not comparing creativity. Change up the handles, the pockets, the shape or the use of prints and make it your own. It renders comparisons as useful as wearing red at a bullfight.
I mean it. It’s not because it’s not packed with gorgeousness. It IS. That, though, means it’s also packed with mental landmines just waiting to explode, sending my confidence splattering in all directions. For me, Pinterest is akin to self-flagellation because I am unable to remove comparisons to my own work. Any benefit I get from being inspired is erased by my immediate urge to collect my products from my customers and set fire to them. No longer looking at it has transformed the way I see my own work. Try it.
Remember your strengths
Grab your fave project and look at it as if you’re an alien who has never seen sewing, crochet or papercrafts before. What do you think of the colours, the stitches, the finish, the prettiness or the functionality of it? Well, all of those things are down to you right? And is this imaginary alien casting your work to one side while muttering, “Pah! I bet Aunt Fanny’s Yarny Crafts did a better job!”? Like hell she is. She’s accepting it for what it is. The trick is that you become that alien but without bursting forth from John Hurt’s chest while on board the Nostromo.
That’s because your tribe will have your back. I learned this early on when joining online crafting groups. Invariably they’d be stuffed with women stitching baby blankets in pinks and blues while I was stitching embroidery hoops with loud profanities on them. It’s no wonder we never got on. It’s not that my work wasn’t good enough. I just wasn’t their thing. Well, I’ve now formed my own tribe with the gorgeous/ funny/ lunatic Kraken Kreations customers and I’ve found groups that genuinely appreciate my type of creativity. The result? I’m perpetually fuelled by people who think it’s hysterical to see the ‘C’ word rendered in French knots.
Think of the back story
Here’s a tale: when I started Kraken Kreations I obsessively followed a maker whose Facebook page and shop was exactly what I wanted. It was successful, bright, fun, engaging and stuffed with admirers. I longed to be like her. That was until I discovered why her work was all of these things: she was agoraphobic. It meant that she never left her house and could dedicate a shit-ton of hours to her creativity. So think of what might lie behind the shiny image in front of you. It’s why I’m open about my experience of PND, PTSD and breakdown. It’s only fair that while you love my work you also know that it’s come from a place involving anti-psychotics and enough counselling to fell Jung.
Respect the journey
The problem with comparing creativity is that it assumes you and the other artist are in exactly the same place with exactly the same skills, experiences, genetics, thought patterns, hours in the day, inspirations, influences and time spent watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race… What are the chances of that? Well, unless you’re comparing creativity with your identical twin there is – and pardon the technical term – fuck-all chance. So comparisons are more than useless. They’re a tangible waste of your efforts. Stop doing it. Stop doing it NOW.
Believe in what you make
That’s because if you don’t you’ll give up the moment you compare creativity. I can’t tell you how much my determination to secure equal rights for women translates into my use of zig zags on my cotton sanitary pads. I’m so fevered in my belief that women have the right to express themselves that it pushes me through any amount of fretting about my next hoop. And OK, you may not have politics behind your urge to crochet teacosies, but at least embrace what drives you to do it.
You know how women’s magazines make you feel fat, ugly, poor and unsuccessful? Well, that’s how sewing magazines make me feel, creatively. That’s why I no longer buy them. One trick I learned, though, is this: flip to the tutorial pages. See the little pull out box, the one with the maker’s biography? Insert your own name and details into it. So instead of it reading, “Emily’s pieces are inspired by the view of the seaside from her bright studio. Her terrier keeps her company while she works…” make it read, “My pieces are inspired by (insert your inspiration here). The (cat/ radio/ something else) keeps me company as I create my (insert work here)…”. It immediately de-glamourises and de-mystifies the magazine’s horseshit and lets you own what you make.
Recognise the dangers
Think about when you’re most vulnerable to comparing creativity. Is it when you’re stuck on a project, at a sewing group or reading a knitting magazine? Once you know you’re less likely to be blindsided by it. My low points are when I don’t know what to make next and when I’m halfway through an anatomical embroidery. Uncertainly creeps in and I know I have to to avoid anything that pushes me into making comparisons. By knowing your triggers you’ll be able to control how and when you expose yourself to influences. And we ALL know what exposing yourself can do, right? Weinstein? Cosby? Trump? RIGHT?
Form a bubble
I know, vacuums aren’t always ideal. Most of us need some sort of creative input in order to form the holy turdage that is creative output. So the trick is to know when you need a creative bubble and know when you need inspiration. I largely work in the bubble of my sewing shed. It means that I’m forced to rely on my own resources but, even better, that I won’t start comparing creativity. Then, when I want inspiration, I seek it only when I feel strong enough to repel the inevitable feelings of inadequacy. In short my bubble lets me control outside influences. Get yourself one immediately.
So how good are you at controlling how much you compare yourself to others? Have you got any tricks up your sleeve or do you feel battered about by it? Let me know in the comments and somehow we will all get out of this alive.