It’s as true of creative work as anything else: Use it or lose it.
For instance, every year I like to do a linocut print for the Christmas card. Nothing too fancy, just a simple pattern I can mass produce and kick out in time for the last second-class post. Linocut’s pretty straightforward. It’s soft, easy to work, and it doesn’t have the grain and splintering issues of wood. But what helps my printing more than any of this, and what I’ve come to rely on over the years, are creative mistakes.
Whenever I make something, whether it’s a piece of writing, a printing or even a song, I rely on things going wrong. As hard as I try to steer things, plans never pay off. The finished product is always different, and almost always better than I could have hoped for at the beginning. In printing, because of my lack of skill, odd patterns emerge that suggest things I would have struggled to come up with from scratch. The most productive thing I can do is look out for the mistakes and use them to guide the rest of the project.
I find that being able to use mistakes and not to be put off by them is as much a skill – if not more – than the actual business of wielding a gouge or crafting a sentence. It’s definitely something that withers if you don’t feed it with sufficient practice, and this year I was painfully aware that I’d been away from the cutting mat for too long. I was still making mistakes, of course, but none of them felt remotely productive, and the only thing that was profiting from all my cussing and swearing was the recycling bin.
Still, I stuck with it and finally managed to arrive at something I’m happy to send out. So here it is, Happy Christmas! And may all your mistakes be creative!