Small and Crappy

When you set out to create something new, I bet the last words that enter your mind are “Gee, I should make something small and crappy.” It doesn’t exactly sound like a high aspiration, does it? It may, nevertheless, be just what you need.

Let’s say you’re working on a project. You know it’s going to be great, and you’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time. You have a deadline, and it’s comfortably far off, but only barely. And nothing’s happening. Everything you try is crap. It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t feel right, you know you’ve seen other people do better work, and you just want to throw in the towel.

That deadline, though…that deadline is looming, and you need something to show or you’ll be a complete failure. You’ll be humiliated. The prospect is so awful that you can barely think about it, so you wander off and treat yourself to a few episodes of 30 Rock or How I Met Your Mother or the novel you’ve been deep into.

Sometimes, it’s good to take this sort of break. If you’re doing it every day and getting nothing done, though, it’s not a break anymore. It’s a lengthy stay in the land of denial, and it is probably compounding your frustration and despair.

Try Something Different

This is exactly the moment when you need to embrace “small and crappy.” Do something. It doesn’t have to be good. It can be downright awful. You can deliberately make it downright awful. Or ridiculous. Or just fun. And it sure shouldn’t be big. Just a little thing. A few paragraphs, a doodle, a twirl in your dance studio…just a little bit of something not very good.

The genius of “small and crappy” is that it gets you out of all that panic and despair. You can laugh at it. Better, you can laugh at yourself. And in the process, you free up the energy you’ve been using to hold yourself back. You might just discover that there’s something hidden in the crap that’s worth using, or considering, or that shows you something you hadn’t thought of before.

The next time you find yourself ignoring your creativity—or just plain running scared from it—because you’re not producing what you think you want, give small and crappy a try. (Or give it a whirl just for kicks!) You may very well be surprised by what you find there!

10 thoughts on “Small and Crappy”

  1. Great post! I totally agree that doing something is better than getting stuck in the creative process. Anytime I have to write an article I always remind myself that the first draft will likely be horrible. That helps to take the pressure off and usually I’ll still find some gems to salvage from it.

  2. This is lovely, Nancy. I think so many times we want it to be just right or perfect, that we stand still and not do anything at all. I recently did project for a client that I felt was small and crappy, I just didn’t like the direction and look the site was taking. But they paid me so I had to complete it. In the end, the client LOVED it. I still don’t like it and would not dare add it to my portfolio, but the point is I did something and the recipient loved and appreciated it so sometimes what’s small and crappy to you may be big and awesome to another. But you’d only know if you give it a go.

  3. Carlana, that’s exactly it. Sometimes we get into the trap of trying so hard that we can’t see the forest for the proverbial trees. Changing directions and focus can help us get that perspective back. I wonder if there is a gem or two hidden in that small and crappy project that might be worth hanging onto, even if you didn’t like the way it turned out?

  4. Ah, yes, the doctrine of “Shitty First Drafts.” There’s almost always something there worth saving, and you got something on the page, to boot! 🙂 Way better than stewing. And it can apply to any part of the creative process at all.

  5. This is a great idea! Especially the suggestion to make it deliberately “small and crappy”. Talk about releasing the pressure! I like this technique to just get started. Sometimes when I am halfway through a project, I forget what edits are for. To go back over the work and polish the rough edges.

  6. Yup–this is a low-pressure way of tricking yourself into getting back into the creative groove. It can absolutely be used at the beginning of a project, or anywhere along the way!

  7. This also works for non-creative tasks. If I can’t make myself pick up the phone for the two important calls on my list, can I call the weather-phone? a small and crappy, unimportant call can sometimes break the logjam I create for myself of ‘it’s too early now, oh they’ll be at lunch, it’s almost quitting time, oh the office is closed, I shouldn’t call at dinner, it’s nearly their toddler’s bedtime, it’s too late to call I’ll do it tomorrow.’

    Much like sitting down to write and just writing ‘I don’t have a thing to say’ until (mirabili dictu!) I do!

  8. Yup–it works for a lot of things. Isn’t it amazing that just as we can psych ourselves out of doing something really easily, the process also works in reverse? 🙂

  9. Hi Nancy,
    This is such a good post.
    The tip of doing *something*, even if it’s small and crappy, can be so powerful to get things moving and break through mental barriers.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Thanks, Gordon—I’m glad it was helpful. Aiming for small and crappy can be even better than doing something by accident, too! 🙂

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