You might have heard of the Creator’s Curse, if you work in a creative medium then you’ve almost certainly felt it. It has been described a few ways, but the basic concept goes like this: During the creation of a work, the creator becomes more proficient, therefore the finished product is never the creator’s best work. This is usually put forward as the reason why artists are more critical of their own work. (Personally, I think this is only half the story. The rest of the disappointment is usually created by the finished work failing to live up to the artist’s impossibly perfect initial concept, but we’ll talk about unreasonable expectations another time.) The result is that a lot of artists, writers, inventors, candlestick makers, end up sitting on their latest work, hiding it away and telling themselves that they’ll go public when they finally get better. This is counter-productive for obvious reasons.
I wasn’t always a writer; as a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist. You can still find my comics littering the internet, some of them are pretty good, but I never sat down and really worked at producing comics. I had the tools, I had the time, and I even had a few decent ideas under my belt, but every comic I sat and produced took too long, or turned out a bit scruffy, or the perspective was off. There was always a reason why I wasn’t good enough to do the work, and years later when I step back and look at the work I did in comics, I see the mark of the Creator’s Curse on every decision I made. I constantly took time off to practice, to learn drawing techniques and do tutorials, but if I’d started drawing a strip back then and stuck with it until today, I’d be a far better artist than I am now.
In Writing, I am no different. I am currently editing a story I started quite some time ago. It is a Timewasters story that was supposed to follow Time Trial, and it is a really awkward job. Looking at it now, I can see a lot of problems that are in my early stories. It is overly wordy, drowning in adverbs and over explaining at every opportunity. It is also far too long, nearly 10,000 words on a plot that is really not that complicated. It has too many characters, it has a setting I’m not happy with. Basically, it’s absolutely not what I would write now. However, when I compare it to other stories I wrote around this time, it is absolutely it line with my weaknesses as a writer back then. In fact, at the time I wrote it, it was easily the best thing I had written. And I sat on it for nearly two years. Now I’m going back and forth on whether to release this story. I’m delving into it headfirst, editing and rewriting wherever I can, but I know I can only do so much without scrapping it and starting again. I don’t want to do that. I like that story, and I think it still works, but it feels like a relic. Had I just released it back when I first finished it, I wouldn’t feel the same way. Its flaws would be part of my past and I would be looking back on it fondly. I would be a better writer now.
It is so easy to shelve a project, easier than sticking with it, easier than releasing it with flaws, because then you can tell yourself you’ve going to fix it. But the further away you get, the harder it is to return, and eventually you’re so far removed from your work that it feels like someone else wrote it and you can never get the spark back.
Breaking the Creator’s Curse is simple. Recognise it. Understand why it is there, and work past it. Learn to accept that you are always growing as an artist, that you will always move past your work, (sometimes quicker than you realise) and that the best way to improve is to work more. The Creator’s Curse is ultimately self defeating, its cause and its solution are the same. As creators, we get better whenever we create, and putting ourselves out their for the feedback of our peers and the perspective it provides is always going to be better than letting something sit on a shelf until it becomes perfect.