Ugly Babies

So yesterday we discussed “murdering our darlings.”
Today? Ugly babies.

I am a newly minted grandmother of one exquisitely handsome grandson (his mother may be reading this) but there are occasionally, so one understands, ugly babies.

In his 1994 book on creativity* Ed Catmull (coFounder of Pixar and later president of Disney animation) writes about the way even successful and beloved movies like Toy Story start out.

It’s a baby. It’s like the fetus of a movie star; we all start out ugly. Every one of Pixar’s stories starts out that way. A new thing is hard to define; it’s not attractive, and it requires protection….Every new idea in any field needs protection. Pixar is set up to protect our director’s ugly baby.

So often we, who would snuggle and adore a wrinkly newborn human or puppy or kitten, stare in exasperation and disgust at our newly hatched projects.
A new business plan.
A first chapter.
A first year garden.
A fitness goal.
A quick sketch.
A new eating plan.

We are more likely to throw these attempts away and ridicule ourselves for ever having thought we could create something new than cherish and protect our ugly new baby.

Ed Catmull confesses what every creative needs to know and remember:

Early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.”

You may recognize a reference to military slang here: “Embrace the suck.” Ed Catmull is perfectly capable of making a more poetic statement, but he challenges us to appreciate not just the finished product but
the wrinkly baby,
the tantrum toddler,
the awkward tween
and the cringe-worthy adolescent stages of our project babies.

How can you make friends with the idea that your new goal may be a little embarrassing?
What part of your new project is so awful that you can laugh and love it?
What if it weren’t a problem that your first draft was mostly unintellgible?

My grandmother used an expression about her doting mother, “All her geese were swans.” It’s a bit of an old fashioned expression I guess, but commonly refers to parents who over exaggerate the beauty and talents of their young.

Stop comparing your new idea to someone’s finished masterpiece. Remember all those masterpieces started as ugly babies and like the ugly duckling that transforms with time and care to an elegant swan, that is just as it should be.

*Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

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